These kids—who are all of about 6 and 8 years old—made their own bows and arrows to play with. Their game? They are playing at being Rama and Lakshmana, using stories from the Ramayana. The bowstrings are just strips of cloth and the arrows are relatively straight twigs that they’ve stripped. The arrows have no points and no feathers, and the bows are as simple as can be, but they can still shoot well over 20 feet. And they are really having a great time.

Most kids in India have very little or nothing in the way of store-bought toys, so they tend to be pretty creative with their games, assuming they have the luxury of not having to work from a very young age. Maybe it’s one reason many Indians are so good at innovating.

The toys we see in the West are available only to the affluent in India, but with this kind of resourcefulness, that’s certainly no hardship. Anyway, most of the Western-style toys for kids are made of the cheapest possible plastic and really have nothing to recommend them.

Those who don’t have much simply learn how to entertain themselves. Singing and dancing are of course part of villagers’ lives (Muslims notwithstanding, of course, as their religion doesn’t allow such activities). In fact, these boys did a dance with their bows at one point, and it was really beautiful. I was quite astonished at their grace and skill. But there are a lot of other games people play, too, if they have the time.

The other day I noticed the dhobi (laundry man) and his family taking a break at the side of the road to enjoy what would have been some kind of dice or board game in the West. However, all they had was a bunch of pebbles. One person would throw a pebble up and capture a certain number of pebbles, catching the first pebble before it hit the ground. If it fell, then the next person got a turn. Presumably, there was a specific sequence, but I didn’t watch long enough to see it. Anyway, they were quite enjoying this simple game.

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