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Chowka bhara is a popular board game, Indian kids grow up playing with their grandparents. The rules are fairly simple – There is a 5X5 matrix that can accommodate a maximum of 4 players with 4 pawns each who are competing to reach the centre of the matrix starting from the midpoints of each of the 4 outer sides of the 5X5 square. There’s a 7X7 version as well, but I don’t like it because it’s too time consuming. The moves are determined by rolling 4 sea shells and depending on which side the face, they get counted as either a 1 or a 0 and a combination of all 1’s yields 8 points and a combination of all 0’s yield 4 points. In order to penetrate the inner squares to get to the centre, one must have “killed” or sent home atleast one of the opponents along the way when you end up on the same square as them. So, it’s fairly straight forward with a little bit of strategy involving which of your pawns you would move at different points of the game such that you get all 4 of them to the centre known as “Gatta”. The process of getting your pawns into this “Gatta” is known as “making fruit”.

After over 2 decades of playing this game innocently, I have discovered so many life lessons through puns in the game, not sure if they were intended though. So, the journey from square one to the centre could be imagined as one’s love life. In order to “kill” or “nail” someone, you need to end up at the same spot as someone else almost like getting a match on Tinder. Like in most relationships, one benefits more than the other depending on how far ahead you are in your “love life”. This is like losing one’s relationship virginity!

Once you have penetrated the inner squares, you have the option of diffusing a strategy known as “Gatti” which allows you to form a couple with your pawns and move them together just like if you were to be in a relationship. One one hand, you have the upside of greater sense of security and the pleasure of companionship, but on the other, you only get to execute half the moves. You can’t move the couple unless you get an even number on the roll of shells just like how when in a couple, one doesn’t get to have all the fun that singles have access to. Given these even numbered move constraints, there is a chance one might never complete the game like couples who don’t make fruit getting frowned upon in the age old days. There’s also a courtship period once you are in the same square before you start taking joint steps. You are free to decide once you’ve been brought together whether you want to continue as a couple or on your own, which is what engagements are for anyway.

You solidify the relationship once you have taken a joint step forward and there after, there is no going back, just like how it is in traditional Indian marriages (Yeah, yeah, it’s changed today, but this is an ancient Indian game!). Sure being in a couple is a trade-off but if an opponent couples, you have the possibility of being destroyed if they step in your square, almost like the couples that destroy each other through unnecessary comparison (Oh look at my colleague’s husband..he just bought her a Gucci bag for their anniversary blah blah blah!). Interestingly, once you go “Gatti”, your sole purpose in the game is to “make fruit” which could be related to the pressure of gene propagation. Not that the singles don’t need to “make fruit” but the pressure is a lot more for couples.

I get that the analogy might be a bit convoluted but hey, having double meaning to childhood games make it more fun, right?

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