Two years ago, roaming through the streets of Varanasi, Tapan Babbar realised the value of friendship.
It began in February 2016, when the 27-year-old visited the city to digitise its massive riverfront. Always on the hunt for engaging audio clips for his interactive website, Babbar wanted to create a virtual tour of Varanasi's 71 ghats.
Babbar spent two weeks wandering the lanes of one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world. “This I felt was a perfect place to showcase the old and long lost games, and to make an attempt to revive the forgotten memories from our childhoods," he said.
Babbar’s schedule was the same every day: accompanied by his friend Arpit Rawat, Babbar would head out to the ghats, and spend time with the children who played there every morning. He would participate in their games for a while and, eventually, shoot their games.
The result was an ode of love to the ancient city – Recess in Varanasi.
“Before taking out our cameras, we interacted with the kids, inquired about their schools and subjects, shared a few jokes,” he said. “After they grew comfortable with our presence, we began documenting the games. If we didn't do this, all the videos would have had kids looking in the camera.”
The steady spin of a traditional lattu (rope top), the lure of writer Premchand’s favourite gilli-danda (tipcat), a fast-paced game of gully (street) cricket, the cheating involved in aankh-micholi (blindfold), the cries accompanying the downfall of a multi-coloured patang (kite), keeping score in maram pitti (dodgeball), avoiding the hot pavements while playing stapoo (hopscotch), befriending the sharp-shooters in pithoo (seven stones), mastering the barter-system while trading kanche (marbles), moving from pakdam pakdai (tag) to chain-chain (chain-tag) – these were some of the games Babbar documented for his latest project.
“I was new to videography, and many of the shots were completely useless,” he said. “I had to shoot them again the next day, of course hoping that the kids would play the same game.”
To shoot the 71 ghats featured on the website, Babbar hired a motor boat from Assi Ghat all the way to Raj Ghat.
The real test began once Babbar returned from Varanasi.
“I had to edit the videos, stitch the panorama manually as perspective change made any software useless,” he said. It took Babbar five months to finish his website, as friends helped him with video editing and imaging.
“With these tasks off my shoulders, I could focus on creating the interactive experience, and write about each game,” he said.
Overwhelmed with nostalgia, Babbar said, “It reminded me of how strong the bonds made on the field once were,” adding that “it also made me regret the friendships that faded away because of work and other responsibilities. Now I am putting extra effort in order to stay in touch with old friends.”
“If a traveller makes a detour from the 'most popular' spots, they get to meet the soul of a locale,” he said.