Just how far would you go to play a game of Scrabble? When I was in college, my cousin and I played obsessively at home, all afternoon and all evening every day, filling up registers with scores instead of study notes. When exam time came near, we had to stop, most reluctantly. That's when my friend Uma, who ran the college Quiz Club, started a round of Scrabble Championships on the lawns. I would mumble 'library' and stay in college till evening.
As newly weds, my husband and I played our first game together in Birpara Tea Garden on a Sunday evening. The atmosphere became so unpleasant, and the competition so deadly, that we had to decide whether to continue playing or give our marriage a chance. It was quite difficult to work it out because we'd also stopped talking to each other. That board - and the tiles which we'd hurled all over the verandah - went into the bottom of a cupboard and stayed there for some years.
So the next time Scrabble was played in the house in a big way was after several years. My brother visited from Chicago for the first time, and three generations - the girls, their grandmother, their uncle and mother - father joining in when work permitted - played Scrabble in earnest. We built up a whole lot of rituals that added to the fun. We'd put on rock and roll CDs, eat pista nuts and Cadbury's Nutties, and play like fiends in the February mid-morning sun, every day that he was here.
My friend Jayati, who lives in a tea garden quite far away, talked about her love of Scrabble some days ago. When she was newly married, she said, she found a Scrabble playing friend in the same garden. A tea garden is such a lonely place for a young girl, and this is about as lucky as anyone can get.
The next time Jayati was in the district she dropped in, and we decided we'd have a quick game. We had a great time and managed to play two boards. Now we just had to meet and play again! The distance between our two gardens is considerable. So we decided we'd meet at a halfway point. That would be a drive of about an hour and a half for each of us, and it just happens to be Phuntsholing, a border town in Bhutan. Sounds strange? It's true! The geography of the Dooars is quite interesting. All along the North you have the Bhutan hills. Bhutan, except for the border towns, is all mountains, and the Dooars is almost all plains. When people from Bhutan commute between the border towns of Phuntsholing and Samtse, they have to do it entirely via India.
Jayati and I enjoy the game!
We met at the Druk Hotel in Phuntsholing, which has a peaceful and cosy atmosphere, and a welcoming and cheerful staff who take great care of you. We played two most enjoyable games, drank tea, and ate the kind of delicious snacky lunch that only women know how to order.