Games at Twilight – Anita Desai

Background

Anita Desai is an Indian novelist who was born to a German mother and an Indian father. Though she was born in India and spent her early life there, she moved to the US to work and write there. She has travelled extensively and taught creative writing in several colleges. Many of her works have been turned into films.

Relevance of the Title

The story is about the children of a large family indulging the chaotic games of childhood one summer evening. When they begin, it is not yet twilight. They are let loose into the open when they become insistent; it is too much of an effort for the mother to have them cooped up inside. But as the games wear on, it is twilight. Ravi hiding inside the old shed with the green doors endures the ignominy of having been forgotten by the rest of the children. He is small and insignificant and breaks into easy tears.

Main themes

Childhood and its joys and sorrows are the themes of the short story. Summer and its discomfort are for adults; for children, summer with its long holidays is an unadulterated delight. Games at Twilight has at its centre a large gaggle of children; brothers, sisters and cousins, no doubt come together for vacations. The older ones tend to be bossy, like Raghu for example, or they are motherly and managing like Mira. The little ones Manu and Ravi occupy a no man’s land. If they are meek and lack self esteem like Ravi does, they are in for a distressing time. But they grow up fast enough and take their place in the pecking order. Ravi is seeking position and success but does not find it the way he wants. Childhood itself is a metaphor for life. The joys and sorrows of childhood come back in later life, magnified beyond comparison. Ravi might at his worst moment consider life to be abysmally bad, but in later life, recall these days with fondness. Or he may still hate them.

Characters

Ravi

Ravi is one of the younger children in the family. He is in awe of his older cousin, the football playing Raghu. Raghu is impatient and a little rough, so to better him in a game of hide and seek would be dream come true for Ravi. Ravi craves for attention and success which have not come his way till now. He feels that today is the day when he can have both. He hides in a place where he feels he will be safe from Raghu’s ‘seeking’ but Ravi hides too well, it would seem. He falls out of the other children’s attention. When he finally appears at twilight teary and distraught, they look at him at though he is a stranger. They have no patience with his outburst; even his mother comes to his rescue with a touch of annoyance. Some summers later, Ravi will be as confident as Raghu but now he is shrinking and meek.

Raghu

He is older than the rest of the kids and so a bit of a bully. He has no patience with the younger ones. He wants all of them to bow to his wishes. Only Mira can put him in his place. The young ones are in awe of him; he is large and his voice is breaking. He is on the verge of adolescence and to the little ones, appears almost grown up.

Summary

It is fearsome summer in a town in North India. But that holds no fears for the children in a large family – a gaggle of brothers, sisters and cousins. Bored after being cooped up all day inside the house, they clamor to be let loose. In the open, they decide on a game of hide and seek. Though unwilling, Raghu is chosen to be ‘It’. Raghu is one of the older children; on the verge of being declared an adolescent. He is short tempered and the younger children fly not to be caught by him as soon as the game has begun. Looking for a safe place to hide, Ravi spies the unused shed into which go the detritus of the household – broken chairs and tables and other nameless things. He squeezes through a narrow gap that will permit only a young child to enter – he is safe from Raghu.

It is dark inside and he bumps into unseen objects. Soon,  the relief of getting away from the mad scramble of looking for good hiding spots lulls Ravi; he basks in the glory of winning the game against the big bully, Raghu. In the distance, he can hear the screams and yells as Raghu finds the children, one by one. He now smells the wet earth indicating that the gardener has begun watering the plants. Soon it is dusk and shadows lengthen. Ravi suddenly realizes that to win at hide and seek it necessary to elude the ‘It’ and touch the den, claiming victory. He bursts out of the shed, dissolving to childish tears, screaming “den!” His mother too, in a mixture of concern and irritation, tells him not to cry. The children look at him as if they don’t quite know who he is. So much had happened while he had remained hidden inside the shed. Not only had Ravi not won, the others had even forgotten his existence. A terrible sense of his insignificance descends on him.

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