There are certain stages that we must all go through to become well-functioning adults who can live in our world and make a meaningful contribution to society. Unfortunately, often those stages involve a certain amount of pain and suffering as we have to learn some hard lessons about ourselves and our place in the world. This is the essence of this tremendous short story by Anita Desai, as we follow the protagonist, Ravi, going thorough one of these experiences. The lesson he learns is that he is not the centre of the universe and actually he is utterly insignificant in the face of the world and his friends. Note how excited Ravi is to find his hiding place and how he dreams of winning the game and the glory he will receive:
He hugged his knees together and smiled to himself almost shyly at the thought of so much victory, such laurels.
He imagines himself to be "a true winner, a breaker of records, a champion." However, ironically, although he is completely right and he does win the game, his daydreaming has allowed so much time to pass that the children have forgotten him completely and moved on to other diversions:
All this time no one had remembered Ravi. Having disappeared from the scene, he had disappeared from their minds. Clean.
Thus, as the children continue playing their funereal game at the end of the tale, Ravi feels he is unable to participate as he is overwhelmed by the "ignominy of being forgotten" and he is "silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance." Thus Desai portrays this as a key stage in the development of all children, when we realise how truly insignificant we all are. However, with this humility, we are then able to mature and develop properly without thinking we are still the most important figure in the world. This is a painful but necessary stage for Ravi to pass through.