Shout-Africa: A look at a sport called Golla-Chhutt

By Anirban Sarkar This sport, as the name suggests, was widely popular in Tripura, West Bengal and Bangladesh—the lands of rosgolla! However, the golla in Golla-Chhutt has nothing to do with that syrupy Bengali delicacy. Golla literally means a circle. Chhutt is ‘run’. This is a game of decentralization—‘run’ out of the ‘circle’.

My wild imagination sometimes go as far as to believe that in the era of strictly centralized policies in India, this perhaps was a wishful dream of kids. Sadly enough, the federal structure hasn’t changed much, but the game has lost its relevance. Courtesy, the cultural invasion by the west! But people who relish the idea of abusing the west for their colonial policy and coming up with new coinage of the old concept—cultural invasion—would also fumble for answer to this little fact that this sport was very popular even until the early nineties in the regions mentioned above. Tell you what, I myself have played a lot of these indigenous games in my childhood and Golla-Chhutt was my favourite. And yes, even in a period when co-education was still not widely accepted, our playmates included both the stocky and the slender sexes.

Before I move on to the details of the game, I would like to point out a very interesting (I know ‘interesting is a subjective concept, I found this as an interesting revelation, others may just not bother) point. Most indigenous Indian games have a role-play element in it, which football or cricket or baseball or hockey does not have. Golla-Chhutt is one such role-play game. I bet you can’t miss this role-play nature of most, if not all, of these games, which I would describe one by one in the forthcoming issues. There is more drama and assumption of fictitious characters in these home-grown means of entertainment than the over-hyped international sports riddled with more corruption than perhaps even in parliamentary politics. These indigenous games, apart from fun and physical fitness, also inspire imagination and creativity in you.

How to play:

There are two teams, one is called the ‘in team’ the other called the ‘out team’). ‘In’ and ‘out’ is decided by toss. Both teams have a captain called the king. (See the role-play in it). The team that wins a toss places its king in the middle of a circle. The others in the team can stand anywhere, but has to be physically connected, directly or indirectly, to someone within the circle. Often it becomes a long chain of players holding one another’s hand. This chain has to end with someone within the circle; thus they are connected.

The ‘out-team’s aim is to touch any member of the in team when out of that chain. That is, to catch in a moment when he/she is not in touch with someone forming the chain that starts within the centre. If they succeed, that player is considered ‘dead’.

Again, the ‘in team’ members try to touch members of the opponent team while maintaining the chain. In that case, the ‘out team’ member is ‘dead’. The dead members cannot take part in that session of the game.

I wonder who won!

Well, the ultimate goal of the ‘in team’ is to get their king out of the opponent’s clutches and reach beyond a demarcated boundary, which essentially has to be quite a few metres away from the outer end of the chain. Once the game is on, it is not necessary that the king has to sit idle within that poky little circle; he may change positions with someone in the team outside the circle, maintaining the chain nonetheless. Strategy, planning, democracy, socialism!

In trying so, the ‘in team’ members try different ploys and proxy stunts to outwit the ‘out team’. They try to distract the others’ concentration from their beloved king and to provide him a safe escapade. If the king succeeds, the ‘in team’ wins. If he is caught on the way and out of that chain, the ‘out team’ wins.

The ‘out team’ generally tries to kill the ‘in team’ soldiers one by one to cut short the chain and create a tight wall by closely surrounding the king, but out of his reach as long as he is within or in touch with someone within the circle. Because the king or soldiers on the ‘in team’ chase them away and try to kill them by touching, which in turn reduces the number of opponent’s soldiers and make a free passage for their king.

There are other localized versions of the game found in different parts on India. And there is ample scope to modify the game rules and conditions to make it more interesting. This freedom exists with all the indigenous games as the media and corporate standardization is yet, or perhaps never, to happen with these. A blessing in disguise!