Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. | Search

Hide and Seek

"Quick, Dad, hide me in the closet!" Raja panted as he rushed into the bedroom.

I lifted him up to the shelf on top of the closet where we stored the extra pillows and blankets. Raja scurried behind the pillows and piled up some sheets over his head. I smoothed up the pile. Raja laid quiet as a mouse while Mike looked all over the house for him. Finally, Mike yelled, "Ollie, Ollie, oxen free!" and Raja jumped down from his hiding place.

I guess Mike's chant meant that he was giving up the search. I remembered the day Durai gave up his search for me when we played hide and seek.

* * *

The local kids were complaining to Granny. "Thiagarajan keeps spoiling our game."

Granny was impartial. She did not scold me. She asked, "Why did you do that, Thiagu?"

"They won't let me play with them."

The kids kept telling me I was too young to play hide and seek. I was the smallest kid in the neighborhood, but I could play hide and seek as well as any of them.

I had told them I knew all the rules and all the good places to hide. I promised not to cheat. I even tried to bribe Durai, the oldest boy in the group, with a pencil.

But they said I was a pest and nobody wanted to play with me. I just hung around with the group, watching them play. Usually, I tagged along the seekers as they tried to locate the hiders. I enjoyed watching the discovery of the hiders, one by one. Once when Prema found everyone except Pattabi, I tried to help her. But she said "Stop pestering us." After a long search, she had to give up. Pattabi was hiding in the mango tree.

Watching the others play was exciting, but it is not the same as actually playing the game myself. I asked the kids repeatedly to let me play with them. But nobody listened to me.

So I came up with the idea of sabotaging their game. Next time when Chandra closed her eyes and counted to fifty and the others went to hide, I carefully noted who was hiding where. When Chandra finished her count and set out in search of the others, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Durai is in the mango tree. Pattabi is behind the cowshed. Jalaja is under the cot. Prema is on the terrace."

They could not play their game after that. They decided to complain to Granny.

Granny listened to me and to the other kids. She took my side and told them, "You should let Thiagu play. If he does not know how to play the right way, you should teach him the rules. You should remember how you felt when you played hide and seek for the first time."

But the kids had a different notion. They decided to quit and to go home.

Later I found out that they did not really quit. They had just moved the game to the mango grove behind Durai's house.

* * *

I complained to Maniannan. He did not do anything immediately, but the next time he saw Durai he asked him to bring the other kids. He talked to the gang and suggested that they should let me play with them. The kids said that I was too young and did not know how to play. Maniannan said he would teach me the rules.

Durai said, "But Thiagarajan cannot even count!"

I retorted, "I can too" and proceeded to count nonstop to a hundred, hardly pausing to catch my breath.

Maniannan repeated his suggestion that they should include me in their game. The kids reluctantly agreed.

When Maniannan left, I asked Durai if I could really play. Durai looked around at his friends and asked, "What do you say, gang? Shall we let Thiagarajan play? Shall we make him a suppani?"

The others snickered and said, "Yeah, let Thiagarajan be a suppani!"

We counted off to eliminate players. Pattabi was the last one left and he was to be the seeker.

While he closed his eyes and counted to fifty, we ran off to find suitable hiding places.

The hiding area was limited to our three houses which had compound walls in the front, fences on the sides, and hedges in the back. Several trees and bushes around the houses provided plenty of good hiding places.

We were permitted to hide inside the houses, if the people would let us. Usually, nobody objected to our hiding in the back rooms, where the women were busy with their household chores. We took care not to irritate any of the men who chatted in the front rooms.

I did not want to hide in some obvious place and be the first one to be discovered. The mango tree was too high for me to climb. I could crouch behind the well and keep changing my position while the seeker walked around. But it was not an especially good hiding place. I could hide in the kitchen or in the pantry, but my house would be the first place Pattabi would look for me.

I finally hid in the cowshed behind Pattabi's house. It was a damp, dirty, smelly place and I was afraid of Lakshmi, the cow. But she was tied to a stake on the floor and was peacefully sleeping. I made sure that I was out of reach of her horns and her tail if she should wake up.

I went behind the sacks of rice husk (which cows loved to eat) just in time. Almost as soon as I crouched behind the sacks, Pattabi stepped in and looked around. Too late, I pulled in my foot which was sticking out. I was sure Pattabi had spied me, but as my luck would have it, he did not seem to be looking at the floor. I felt an urge to giggle but Pattabi left just before I did so. Again I was sure he had heard my giggle, but he must have been really sleepy that day.

Pattabi did not discover me that day at all. The game lasted for more than an hour. Usually, the seeker yells "I give up!" much sooner if he could not locate the last player.

Once I peeked through the door of the cowshed, and saw Chandra walking in the broad daylight as if she were the seeker. And Pattabi was nowhere to be seen. But I was smart enough to stay inside the cowshed until the street lamps came on. That's when all of us kids were supposed to come back home.

Before walking home, I asked Pattabi what he thought about his not being able to find me.

He replied, "You are a great suppani!"

The others laughed, but I did not understand the joke.

The next time we played, I lost on the count and had to be the seeker. Durai, who was counting off, tried to tell me that Jalaja should be the seeker, but I did not want to cheat.

While I closed my eyes and counted to fifty, the others ran off to hide. I must have been a smart seeker, because I caught all of them in five minutes!

When I started looking for them, they foolishly exposed themselves. First I located Jalaja, who was trying to climb the mango tree. That was a silly thing to do, because she was a girl and also because the lowest branch of the tree was above her reach. Finding the others was equally easy. Everyone was hiding in an obvious place. Also, Durai had his foot sticking out from behind the well, Chandra's bright red hair ribbon glinted through the bushes, and Pattabi was sneezing uncontrollably as I came to the ditch near the street.

And when I was one of the hiders, Jalaja could not find me at all! I hid in the same place, in the cowshed, even though Lakshmi was not sleeping that day. But she kept chewing her cud contentedly.

I kept peering through the door from time to time but even then Jalaja could not spot me. I heard her shouting "I see you, Durai." Later, I thought I heard Durai shouting something.

When the street lights came on, we quickly met in front of Durai's house before breaking up. The kids smiled at me and said that I was a great suppani.

* * *

I asked Maniannan what a suppani was, he looked annoyed but did not answer me. Maybe it was a dirty word because he asked me to tell Durai he wanted to talk to him. I did that immediately; Durai and Maniannaa talked to each other seriously, out of my earshot.

It was some months later that I discovered that a suppani was a pretend player. The other players let him believe that he was also playing, but they played their own secret game. While I was hiding in the cowshed, the kids totally ignored me and played among themselves. When it was my turn to seek, they let me catch them easily so they could return to the real game.

It was a good thing Maniannan did not explain about suppani to me because that would have upset me very much. I didn't know what Maniannan told the others, but because he was the oldest boy in the neighborhood (except for Adhi who was too old), his words carried some weight.

The other kids began to treat me like a regular player. They caught me easily when I hid, even though I never was the first one to be discovered (and therefore I never got to be the seeker).

I thought I was losing my skill in hiding. Part of my problem was I always giggled whenever people came near my hiding place.

* * *

Once I did something very cunning. It was Durai's turn to be the seeker and he had already caught three of the others. I was hiding behind the bushes when I saw him locate Prema in the kitchen. As soon as they left the kitchen, I moved in.

Durai did not come back to look into the kitchen. After catching everyone else, he stood under the mango tree and yelled, "I see you, Thiagarajan! "

I was indignant. How could he see me, especially since he was looking at the opposite direction? So I came out of the kitchen and yelled back, "No you don't!"

Durai said, "Now I do!"

He claimed to have caught me good and proper. He said I was stupid if I did not know enough to keep my mouth shut.

* * *

That evening when I complained about this, Maniannan took Durai's side.

"It is a part of the seeking strategy to try to entice the hiders to make a sound." Maniannan said. "You know why you are not a good hide-and-seek player? Because you have a big mouth. You giggle too much. You talk too much. Also you move around too much. If you want to be as good as the big boys, you've got to learn to be quiet. You should not move unnecessarily. You should not giggle or talk or cry or sneeze."

Maniannan knew all the important things. I decided I would use the big-boy strategies and not make any noise the next time I played.

And the next time was on Saturday evening. There was no school on Saturdays and we started our game at five in the evening. The whole gang was there and I was all excited because I was going to use Maniannan's strategy and become both silent and invisible. I had also thought up a perfect place to hide.

Durai was the first seeker. As soon as he started counting, I ran home very fast. I went in through the back door to the pantry. This is where we kept the kitchen supplies and the big pots which were used only during festivals or somebody's wedding.

There was a pewter jar of gingelly oil, a copper pot of lentils, and a basket of red chilly peppers. I kept away from the peppers because I did not want their pungent odor to make me sneeze. The pantry had enough supplies for a month. The cook took stuff for each meal and Granny supervised him.

A huge quantity of rice (which came from Father's farm in the village) was stored in a barrel. It was made of wooden strips and held together by two iron hoops. It had a hinged lid on top and was usually filled with enough rice for six months. On that day, it was nearly half full.

I dragged a dealwood box (which contained smaller kitchen utensils such as ladles, spoons, and measuring vessels) near the rice barrel. Using the box as a step, I climbed into the barrel. That was not the first time I had done it, but during the earlier times Maniannan had always lifted me in and out.

The rice felt nice under my feet as I stood up inside the barrel. The top of the barrel came to my shoulders. I pulled the lid shut above my head and sat down on the rice. It felt warm and comfortable. I liked the smell of the rice but took care not to stir up any dust in case it got into my nose and made me sneeze.

It was very dark inside the barrel, but I could see thin slivers of light where the wooden strips were joined with each other. I probably would have been afraid of the darkness if it were not for the excitement of having found the perfect hiding place. I was sure that Durai--who had boasted that nobody could escape him--would be so frustrated that he would give up his search.

I heard somebody walking into the pantry, and at first I thought it was Durai. The footsteps were heavier and I realized that it was the cook. He went to the wall shelf to pick up a pot or something. He was leaving the room but I heard his footsteps stop near the door. He came to the rice barrel. I didn't want him to open the barrel and yell at me. Luckily, he just jiggled the padlock . and went out.

Durai did come in later. He shouted, "Thiagarajan, I see you!"

I wasn't going to fall for that trick any more. I kept myself still as a mouse. I held my breath. I thought about sad things so I would not giggle.

After a few minutes I heard Durai run out of the pantry. But I was sure he would come back after checking out the other hiding places. I still had to keep quiet.

I kept thinking how surprised my friends would be when Durai gave up. Maybe they will ask for my advice on where they should hide and how they should avoid being discovered. I would teach them what Maniannan had taught me. But not everything!

The barrel was getting warmer and I wanted so much to breath some cool air. I tried to open the lid so I could peek out and, if nobody was around, stand up. I can sit down again and keep quiet.

But when I tried to push the lid up, it would not budge. The cook must have pressed the padlock to keep the lid from being opened. Even though I was growing hotter, I was glad the cook did that. Now even if Durai came back, he could see nothing suspicious about the barrel and would not bother to check inside.

I could hear the outside noises, but my ears were other funny sounds. I was getting a headache. My eyes were itching and it was difficult to breath. I felt like the time Maniannan had put a pillow over my head and sat on it. My chest began to hurt and I wanted to cough. I opened my mouth and tried puffing rapidly.

It was just at that time I heard Durai come back into the room. He shouted, "Come out Thiagarajan, I see you!"

I knew exactly what to do. I stopped squirming and controlled my urge to sneeze. I pinched my nose tight. My head hurt so much I was tempted to cry out, "Open the lid, Durai. I am inside the rice barrel."

But I did not want all my effort to go to waste. I did not want Maniannan to think that I was too young to be a smart player. I wanted to prove the others were wrong.

My head and chest hurt more. I could hear my heart pounding so loudly that I was worried Durai would hear it too. My Father had told me that sanyasis had so much self control that they could will their hearts to stop. Father did not think I had any self control at all, but I tried to make my heart stop.

Then I started sweating and the darkness around me got darker. I felt cold and dizzy. I thought I was going to fall asleep. I wanted to scream aloud, but as I went to sleep, I screamed silently. I screamed "Father" before I realized he would probably get angry at my hiding in the rice barrel. I screamed "Mother" and then realized she could not hear me because she had died four months ago. I screamed "Maniannan" repeatedly. I wanted him to realize that I followed his advice.

* * *

When I woke up, I was lying on the floor. My face and my hair were wet. Everybody was standing around me and the cook was about to pour a tumbler of cold water on my face! He was acting very silly.

I was too weak to sit up and I groaned loudly. The cook stopped. Granny muttered a prayer of thanks to Lord Muruga and sat down near me.

The kids were all gawking at me. Durai was looking worried and I asked, "Durai, did you give up?" My voice sounded very weak.

Durai said, "Of course I did. I would not have found you even if I searched for a month." The others nodded their heads.

I smiled at Maniannan and said, "I did exactly what you told me to do. I did not make any noise and kept my mouth shut."

Finally, I turned to granny and asked, "What am I doing here? I went to sleep in the rice barrel."

Everybody tried to explain at once. I was too tired and too confused to understand what they were talking about. The cook claimed to have saved my life by getting rice for the evening meal. Maniannan explained about sufficient oxygen coming through the cracks. Durai kept pleading he did not do it. Granny remarked that it was a good thing Father was away.

The kids were talking excitedly to each other and from time to time looking admiringly at me. Jalaja said I did a brave thing and that was just like a girl.

When the street lights came on, the kids came one by one to me to say good bye. I was sitting up by that time. They all smiled at me and it looked different from the way they smiled when they called me the great suppani.

They never called me a suppani since that day.

Back to Short Stories