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.
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.
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.
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.
The setting is a town in North India which is in the grip of summer. The children in a large family are clamoring to be allowed to play outside. When they are let loose, they decide on a game of hide and seek. Though unwilling, Raghu is to be “It”. The little ones scramble to get away from him. Ravi wriggles into an unused shed with no thought of how to come out of it and reach the ‘den’. By the time he comes out and races to the ‘den’, it already twilight and his siblings and cousins are fast at another game. Dissolving into tears, he declares himself winner. But to his dismay, the rest of the children have forgotten all about him.
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.
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.
The sentences in the story tumble out in short staccato bursts. They are interspersed with long winding ones that describe the setting of the old bungalow that bakes slowly in the heat. There long descriptive passages that conjure pen pictures of the surroundings.
1. The children too felt released. They too began tumbling, shoving, pushing against each other, frantic to start. Start what? Start their business. The business of the children’s day which is – play.
The children in the story had been kept shut in the house, against their will, to protect them from the searing heat of the Indian summer. But now as afternoon turns to evening, they coax and cajole their mother to let them into the open. The mother knows it’s hopeless to argue. Once in the open, there are the usual arguments of what to play.
2. “I know I have to, idiot,” Raghu said, superciliously kicking him with his toe. “You’re dead”, he said with satisfaction, licking the beads of perspiration off his upper lip, and then stalked off in search of worthier prey, whistling so that the hiders would hear and tremble.
The children have decided on a game of hide and seek. It has fallen on Raghu to be ‘It’ and though unwilling, he proceeds to seek out the others who have hidden. It’s the younger ones who are easy prey for Raghu as in their confusion to go left or right, they land in front of him. Raghu who is one of the older children in the family is rather a bully and the young ones know they can’t win against him.
3. It was an insect – Perhaps a spider – exploring him. He squashed it and wondered how many more creatures were watching, waiting to reach out and touch him, the stranger.
Ravi had chosen to hide in the unused shed with a green door. It was seldom opened and filled with the detritus of the household – broken chairs and tables, old buckets and such like. He had never been inside when it was lit up, much less in pitch darkness like now. The smells emanating from inside suggested rats, mice and mould. Ravi was glad he had got away from Raghu but also terrified by the spooky insides of the shed where nothing was visible. There was something crawling along the back of his neck. Tentatively he put his hand up to touch it. It felt like a spider; he squashed it.
4. To defeat Raghu – that hirsute, hoarse-voiced football champion – to be the winner in a circle of older, bigger, luckier children – that would be thrilling beyond imagination. He hugged his knees together and smiled to himself almost shyly at the thought of so much victory, such laurels.
Hidden inside the shed, safe from the large bossy Raghu, Ravi is already savoring his victory. Raghu can never come inside – for one thing he was not small enough. Ravi did not often win at anything. He was small and was often overlooked. He did not get enough attention and this he thought would be the chance to make up for all that. The other children were older, but nevertheless, he would be the winner.
5. The mother rose from her basket chair and came towards him, worried, annoyed, saying, ‘Stop it, stop it, Ravi. Don’t be a baby. Have you hurt yourself? Seeing him attended to, the children went back to clasping their hands and chanting, ‘The grass is green, the rose is red…’
Inside the shed, Ravi slowly becomes conscious of time passing by. There is the small of wet earth indicating the gardener hard at work. There is the dimming of light and through the crack in the wall he can see the lengthened shadows. The shrill shouts of his siblings and cousins are also muted. Suddenly Ravi realizes that to be declared winner at hide and seek, one had to touch the pillar unchallenged. Ravi bursts out of the shed and races to the pillar calling out ‘Den!’ He is so overwrought, he bursts into tears disturbing his mother who in a mixture of annoyance and concern comes to pacify him.
6. He lay down full length on the damp grass, crushing his face into it, no longer crying, silenced by a terrible sense of his significance.
Ravi’s dreams of glory and victory were dashed as the game had long before got over. He had missed his chance while day dreaming inside the shed. When he charges out declaring himself winner, the children are mystified. They don’t quite know what he is talking. For a little while they don’t even know who this wild creature is. For Ravi, this is the most unkind cut. He has always been conscious of his insignificance but to have it flung at his face like this is more than he can bear.
1. Why does Ravi have to abandon the plan to hide inside the garage?
2. Why is the shed with the green door a good place to hide from Raghu?
3. Why is Ravi so desperate to win this game?
4. Raghu is a typical overbearing adolescent. Do you think so too? Support your answer with quotes.
5. When does it dawn on Ravi that victory is a long way away?