As a small boy, I played a version of cricket in the tree-and flowering-plant-filled garden of my grandparents’ south Kolkata house. The wall was my bowler. With my left hand on the grip of my bat, I would throw the ball at the wall with my right and, by the time it rebounded, get into position to play it. Full-fledged matches would be played this way, with me always batting (very important), playing on behalf of both teams, being scorer and radio commentator.
India always won in these games. Well, almost. (A sort of verisimilitude had to be maintained. Cheating requires its warped set of values.) And certain Indian players almost always performed better than they did in real life.
I don’t think I have ever in my life felt so much in control of things as I did in those matches.
My daughter, now seven, plays tennis (or a game somewhat resembling tennis) like this at home. I have never told her about my games in the courtyard, and I find it fascinating how children— even from different generations— do similar things.
She plays with a balloon and a kiddie racket against the wall of a bedroom. (Try it with your kids: it’s safe, addictive and is likely to keep them occupied for hours.) Rafael Nadal always wins in these games. So does Maria Sharapova. It’s fun to watch her orchestrate it all,touchingly exhibiting the honour that exists among cheats.
Rigging a game you play yourself so that your hero wins is one thing. Wanting to win in any game you play (by crook or by crook) is something quite else.
And our girl wants to win every time at every board game she plays with my wife and me. I would think it is unlikely, but perhaps, who knows, she might have the sort of rage for perfection and competitiveness that fuelled one of my sporting heroes, John McEnroe. But if that is so, I shall plead guilty as charged for not steeling her resolve to win.
I am a world-champion at cultivating slothfulness, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to want to win all the time. Apart from everything else, it’s too stressful. And stress is one thing none of us need any more of.
So, what do we do? We try to lose at everything we play with her. That is easy enough at, say, carom or chess (oh, the carnage-inviting blunder of pushing the Queen’s pawn forward). But how does one contrive to lose at snakes and ladders?
I don’t pretend to be an authority on anything but this I shall say with as much authority as I can summon: it is complicated, but possible. I push the marker up five paces when the dice says six so that I avoid a ladder and am eaten by a snake. I let her do the same thing — or a variation— so that she manages to avoid the snake and climb the ladder.
She can tell what happens, but it’s all nudge-nudge-wink-wink. So long as she can win, why should she care about how? (A point of view vindicated by sporting history; think, for instance, of Bodyline.)
In a way, I know I shouldn’t be doing what I am. I should be either trying to channel her competitiveness the way Serena and Venus Williams’s father did; or I should be telling her cheating and winning is not a particularly noble way of playing any game.
But the reserves of my laziness are bottomless. I am awful at lecturing (another of the things I’m spectacularly awful at). And we, my daughter nor I, turn and run the other way at the sniff of pompousness.
What’s more, parenting involves so much patience, so many dialogues, such a lot of talking, that I am infinitely grateful in this instance to quietly connive and let things be.
That way, I get some more reading done.