Slice of life
The Antigua connection
BY V. GANGADHAR
Was there a link between "warri" and pallankuzhi and how did the game reach distant Antigua?
A COUPLE of days before the suspense-laden drawn first test match between India and West Indies at the Antigua Recreation ground, I made a momentous discovery which made me do an Archimedes act, jump up and down, run around and shout "Eureka". With clothes on, of course.
It was a photograph which appeared on the sports page of The Times of India. First I glanced at it casually, then something struck me. I had a closer look and could not believe what I was seeing. The photograph showed Harbhajan Singh at the Antigua cricket ground during the Indians' practice game against the local team. Seated on the floor, he was immersed in a local game with some of the spectators. The game, according to the picture, was "warri" and the wooden or metal frame shown in the picture was very much like pallankuzhi, a traditional game of Tamil Nadu which I had played in my childhood.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again. The "warri" frame had six pits or cavities on either side and each of these had some chozhies (shells). This was what our pallankuzhi frame was like though it had seven cavities on either side. Now, Indian cricket correspondents in Antigua had written millions of words about the beauty of the island, its 400-plus beaches, details about "King" Vivian Richards, and how another Antiguan, Curtly Ambrose, sporting a new hair-do was now the lead guitarist with a local band. Interesting details, but not a word about the pallankuzhi link. They missed the scoop of the tour!
Perhaps, I should not blame them. Not knowing anything about pallankuzhi, perhaps they could not link it with "warri" . For that matter, how many of the present generation of Tamilians know the game? I made some enquiries at Matunga where you can get anything from Tamil Nadu. At the famous Giri Trading Co., I was informed that pallankuzhi was no longer very popular in the era of TV and video games though South Indian families settled in the U.S., occasionally bought it while passing through Mumbai. They showed me the one frame in stock, dirty brown in colour with an odd shape, priced Rs. 100 and not a bit like the shining black teak wood pallankuzhi we had at home. But this traditional game, normally involving two players, is still popular among women in small towns and villages in Tamil Nadu and is sold in shops near temples. The government museum in Tiruchi, in an effort to revive traditional games, once held a pallankuzhi event and exhibited a frame which was about 150 years old.
Well, we played a lot of pallankuzhi at home during my boyhood and distant memories revolved around playing the game with one of my grandmothers, using plenty of chozhis and some tamarind seeds to fill in the holes. Grandmother invariably won the game. One needed luck rather than special skills to win. The game, along with tayakattai (another traditional game) was played round the clock on the Shivratri night.
Was there a link between "warri" and pallankuzhi and how did the game reach distant Antigua? I can understand pallankuzhi played in Trinidad and Tobago or Guyana, which have a sizeable Indian population. These are the homes of a number of past and present West Indian players like Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, Dinesh Ramdin, Sew Shivnaraine and the spinner Nagamuttoo! The game could have travelled to these islands through the ancestors of these players of Indian origin. But Antigua? I am left guessing.
But my great discovery is full of exciting prospects. Imagine our learned President, Dr. Abdul Kalam, who must be familiar with pallankuzhi on a State visit to Antigua. Properly briefed by his Think Tank, the President could refer to "warri" and pallankuzhi as symbols of the traditional links between the two nations. There is nothing like "traditional links" to break the ice in diplomacy!
Exercises in diplomacy
To cement India-Antigua ties further, he could carry with him and distribute our pallankuzhi frames to the Antiguans and suggest annual contests between teams from the two nations. In the 1970s, China came closer to the U.S. following ping-pong diplomacy, so why can't we have pallankuzhi diplomacy between India and Antigua as a result of which they could support our nuclear programmes and candidacy to the permanent seat in the UN Security Council? A trophy could be instituted for the contests and preferably named "Kaveri Patti pallankuzhi-warri Trophy" in the memory of my grandmother who was just tops in the game. Such an initiative would be natural for a President who recently flew in a high speed Indian Air Force fighter plane!
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