There are parts of Bangalore that aren't Bangalore.
This sentence holds true for any Bangalore that you know. Whatever your mental map of the city is, there are always other cities hidden in the cross-hatches. For many Bangaloreans, the parts that are shaded just so, may not exist at all. The other day, for example, I hitched a ride with a friend who’s descended from one of Vijayanagar’s first families - not Krishnadevaraya’s kingdom, but one of Bangalore’s old layouts, a part of town where his grandfather was one of the first to move in.
He knows at least half a dozen ways into the neighbourhood, but the day I made him turn into a side lane just before we entered Vijayanagar (I’ll confess it was to avoid the cops hauling me up for not wearing a helmet while riding pillion), we found ourselves navigating homewards through Cholurpalya and Kempapura Agrahara, both areas much older than Vijaynagar. “I didn't know this was there so close to Vijayanagar,” he said, as we rode back into familiar territory.
The borders between the different Bangalores, where cross-hatches smudge into a dull grey, are not always well-defined. I grew up in one such in-between land, and this is why for a few years as a kid, I had an extensive collection of cigarette packets. It was not because I was a precocious delinquent, but because the packets were the currency for the game of ‘baccha’, a street game popular in these interlands.
The rules of baccha are suspiciously similar to that of the French game of petanque, a derivative of the game of lawn bowls. Unlike that game, neither petanque nor baccha require well-manicured lawn: any reasonably flat surface will do. The only place I’ve ever seen petanque being played in India is by a group of Pondicherry thathas, but I have no idea how it travelled to Bangalore, nor yet how the hollow steel balls of petanque transmogrified into the marble tiles of baccha, and how the wooden cochonnet or piglet of petanque became a pile of cigarette packets.
The boundaries of baccha are rectangular, with a small circle around two-thirds of the way where the cigarette packs of each player are arranged. The goal of the game is to get as many cigarette packs out of the playing area beyond the end line (and not the side boundaries) by tossing your baccha, but without getting your baccha out of the playing area. You play as many rounds as you want until the sun sets, or the streetlights conk out.
Cricket and badminton, middle-class Bangalore’s most popular games, require some minimum equipment, and streets wide enough to be played in. These conditions were crucial to determining where these games would be played, and by whom. Games like buguri (played using spinning tops) and goli (played using marbles), played in the shaded regions, weren’t sophisticated enough for most layout kids; nor were they skilled or dexterous enough to play them.
But baccha was a game that was perfectly suited for the interstices of Bangalore. The tiles needed - also called ‘bacchas’ - always came from construction sites, aplenty in the 1990s when Bangalore real estate had just begun to boom. The cigarette packets usually came from arrangements made with various local stores, which probably saw us as efficient garbage collectors. All you needed to play baccha was decent aim, and an ability to strategise. ‘Lagori’ and ‘churchand’ were popular for similar reasons: but compared to those much simpler games, baccha had more complicated rules, and could hook you for hours at a stretch.
Baccha has now pretty much disappeared from Bangalore’s streets, as have the other games of interstitial Bangalore. The easy conclusion is that the borders between various Bangalores have become much more solid over the years, which is true to some extent. Large apartment complexes and gated communities have become self-sufficient, and need less and less interaction outside their self-contained bubbles every day.
But all kinds of street games, not defined by their micro-geography, have also disappeared. ‘Ice pice,’ ‘dabba,’ and various such versions of hide and seek were once extremely common. Loud shouts of “ajji mane kaayongilla, bajji maadkond tinnongilla” and “oofi oofi” had been part of Bangalore’s diegetic sounds for years. The former is a phrase that roughly translates to “do not make and eat bajjis while camping in your grandma’s house” and is used when a seeker is not moving around much from his home base. The latter is a meaningless chant that is screamed when a seeker makes a misidentification. Their disappearance points to a parallel hypothesis: parents’s increasing paranoia and reluctance to let their kids on the streets. House arrests are easier than ever to enforce with screen time. It is possibly a testament to cricket’s massive popularity that it has been resilient enough to not yet completely disappear from Bangalore’s streets.
Sometime in 2016, I saw a bunch of Shivajinagar kids playing baccha on the footpaths off MG Road, and it filled me with so much happiness that I stood and watched a few rounds. This was my first baccha sighting in over a decade. I have not seen anyone playing the game since. I know that it isn’t coming back, but every now and then when I spot a kid collecting discarded cigarette packs, I am filled with hope that there are some hidden corners of Bangalore where kids are still tossing their bacchas at piles of cigarette packets.
Thejaswi Udupa is a tech entrepreneur, writer, and very Bangalorean. He's currently working on a book about the city.
Photo credit: Ishaan Manjrekar
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