Games at Twilight and Other Stories
is a 1978 fiction collection by Indian novelist Anita Desai. Games at Twilight
tells the story of Ravi, a young boy who is not understood by his family and who feels ignored. The theme of childhood and its many facets is central to the tale, while innocence, disappointment, and the ups and downs of that conflicted period of life are also examined throughout the story.
Ravi is part of a large family. He looks up to his cousin, Raghu, whom he aspires to beat in a competition as a way to gain attention and some sort of success. It is summertime and the children in the story live in a hot uncomfortable house. They are all anxious to go outside to play and finally convince their mother to let them do so. As a game gets underway, there is a heated debate about which of the children will be “it” during play hide and seek. Ravi hides in a shed and feels confident that he will win the game. This prospect makes Ravi feel very happy as, so far, he has never emerged victorious in any of the games that the children have played, and he is excited to have the opportunity to finally beat the others. In reality, the rest of the children have all but forgotten about Ravi, which means that he does indeed win the game. In spite of this victory, his success seems to go unnoticed by the other children who simply begin playing a different game. Ravi’s excitement and pride at beating the others seem to have disappeared. The power of competition or rivalry emerges as a significant theme. Ravi’s primary objective and desire is to win the game and beat the other children. So powerful is his resolve to win that it carries him through the fear he feels when he hides in the shed. As one of the younger children playing the game, he was not confident but managed to persevere. The implication is that winning will make him see himself in a different light. Seeing things from a child’s perspective, Ravi feels, simplistically, that he will be better than the others, something he did not feel prior to the game. The fact that a childhood game of hide and seek is of such importance to him underscores that fact that he is a child, with a child’s innocence, and is viewing life from that point of view
At the onset of the game, the author describes birds drooping and a dog stretched out on a mat in a way that suggests they are, or at least seem to be, dead. By the end of the story Ravi feels as if he too has died and he is described lying silently on the ground, lifeless. Ironically, towards the end of Games at Twilight,
the children play a game that is about death. They cannot realize, from their external view of him, that Ravi is symbolically dying inside, “killed” by his failure to improve his station in life relative to the others. They have no way of knowing that he took the game of hide and seek seriously, while to them it was just a way to pass the time. Ravi loses his desire to play any further games with the other children.
In describing Anita Desai as one of the preeminent voices of Indian literature, The New York Times
said, “Sometimes a mango is just a mango. This is rarely the case in Indian novels, where mangoes tend to be luminescent orbs dangling in steamy air, glistening with sweetness, sex and Being itself, waiting to be plucked, caressed, birthed. Either that or they’re muddy and rotten and piled high on a dirty road, surrounded by rancid garbage, rank cooking fires, beggar children and grinning, greasy swindlers. In other words, mangoes in India’s literary fiction are much like India in literary fiction: distinguished by pleasing aromas or permanent anarchy, if not some chutneyed combination. For almost five decades, Anita Desai’s writing has avoided this easy trafficking in the delicious and malicious. She has instead created a body of work distinguished by its sober, often bracing prose, its patient eye for all-telling detail and its humane but penetrating intelligence about middling people faced with middling prospects. Whether in India, Mexico or America, Desai’s characters tend to be easy marks for new possibilities — for something, anything, other than life as it is. This vulnerability leads to promising experiences, which often become fresh disappointments. For a writer so taken with such arrangements, the best results are minor-key masterpieces; the lesser efforts are melancholy suffocations.”