The weather was pleasant and I needed a break from books. Naturally, we ventured out to the fields. Meera Bai and Paanchi Bai were chatting away, sitting at the border between their adjoining land. Asha soon joined us. Everyone took turns holding Krishna, Asha's five-month-old girl. She's started gurgling now, and dribbles out spit-bubbles regularly. Nikhil clicked some pictures and we shared a few laughs. Meera Bai then suggested we play a game.
It's called Char Bhar. Three concentric squares are drawn in the dirt. Each of the two players get nine pepples. The goal is to make as many three-in-a-row pebble placements as possible. The catch? You can only place a pebble on the corner of a square. Furthermore, the player that manages to place three of her pebbles in a row gets to take one of the opponents pebbles. These rules were not explained to me. Characteristic of Meera Bai she began playing immediately as I remained clueless. It was only after a few losses that I realized what I should not be doing. Asha guided me on moves. Frustrated with my inept strategy, she soon took over. If there was a Grandmaster title for Char Bhar Meera Bai deserves it. She was on fire, moving with finesse and picking up the opponents rocks with speed.
Meera Bai whizzing through as I fail miserably (Courtesy: Nikhil G)
There were a few factors that added difficulty to the game. For one, the lines in the dirt soon became undefined. Additionally, all the rocks looked the same. When we left the fields and headed back home, we found Buaji and Heeru playing Char Bhar as well. Their board was much larger and their solution to the identical-rocks problem ingenious: one player used white rocks and the other player used goat poop-pellets. Brilliant.
The more seasoned players using nature's color-coded pegs (Courtesy: Nikhil G)
Evening soon came and our light bulb wasn't working (again). So we went downstairs and took our bag of books with us. The Nandram Kharol children quickly began studying on their own - Mitthu took up math, Jasodha started on her My Garden picture book, Lakshmi began to draw, and Radheshyam perused through an English magazine. Nandramji took out old pictures to show us - here, the husband-wife couple were holding hands at the Chittor Fort so it looked like their hands met at the top of the fort. In another photograph, the family sat in a row, solemn-faced and staring at the camera. More pictures emerged from the worn out navy-blue duffel - Nandram's rifle-registration license, more austere faces, more awkward poses. The two hours we spent downstairs was one of the few bonding moments we have had with the family. Shanti Bai got emotional and invited us to dinner tomorrow. I am looking forward to spending more time with them in our last days here.