Delhiwale: Gilli danda, live from Mehrauli’s Zafar Mahal
We find a group of young men playing gilli danda at a Mughal-era monument in Mehrauli. Here’s a dispatch.delhi Updated: Nov 17, 2017 13:28 IST
It looks like cricket, but it isn’t. It is gilli danda, a game not commonly seen on Delhi’s streets. Even so, one winter afternoon we found a group of young men playing the game at Zafar Mahal, a Mughal-era monument in Mehrauli.
The players were all from the locality. They looked like college students but turned out to be people with working lives. Vaibhav Midha is a dholak player in a music orchestra. Ankit Gosai is a cab driver. Prateek Arora works in a hospital. Mohit Thurkral is a travel agent who speaks fluent French.
“We play gilli danda only sometimes, and that too in the winter,” said one of the players. Gilli danda, another explained, doesn’t have the concept of teams. The dependable Wikipedia condescendingly calls gilli danda an “amateur sport’ that “is played with two sticks: the large one called a danda, which is used to hit the smaller one, a gilli.”
As a new round began, the players took positions around the ruin. One of the young men threw the colourful gilli towards the man holding the danda. The latter’s danda hit the gilli with such force that it flew into a neighbouring roof. There were groans of exasperation. One of the players was dispatched to a grocer’s shop to quickly get a new gilli. Meanwhile, the players sat around an unknown person’s grave.
The danda lay forsaken near another unmarked grave.