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"Games at Twilight" is a short story by Anita Desai. It tells of children's games, childhood fantasies and the fears of young hearts. At the beginning of the story we are told that the children are all anxious to go out and play. Desai describes to us the oppressive heat of the Indian sun and how it made the children
"feel that their lungs were stuffed with cotton wool and their noses with dust and if they didn’t burst out into the light and see the sun and feel the air, they would choke."
Desai uses language and imagery to encourage sympathy for Ravi in this story.
When the game starts, Raghu, the big brother, is "It." The other children scatter, but little Ravi is at a loss as to where he should hide himself. He looks into the garage but cannot get in because he is too short to reach the key.
"Ravi had wished he were tall enough, big enough to reach the key on the nail, but it was impossible, beyond his reach for years to come. He had sidled away and sat dejectedly on the flowerpot. That at least was cut to his own size."
Desai makes us aware of how futile and useless Ravi feels because of his height. We are drawn to his helplessness and can't help but sympathize with him. However, Ravi soon realizes that he is small enough to enter the shed, a forbidding place he has never before tried to breach the sanctity of, on account of its fearful reputation:
"It was dark, spooky in the shed ... a dark and depressing mortuary of defunct household goods seething with such unspeakable and alarming animal life."
Again, with skillful imagery, Desai portrays what such a shed would look like to a small, defenseless boy who only wants to best his big brother and who craves the attention of his mother and the other children. Although afraid that there could be snakes in the shed, he bravely refrains from crying out, relieved instead to "hear Raghu, hear his stick. It made him feel protected." He does not even give voice to his fear, preferring to be indirectly assured by his brother's presence rather than to be humiliated by being discovered.
"What fun if they were all found and caught—he alone left unconquered! He had never known that sensation."
Desai leads us to believe that Ravi may yet succeed and we silently cheer him on until we too, are aghast that poor Ravi has forgotten to complete the victor's tradition by running up to the veranda, touching it and calling out, "Den!" Our hearts go out to him when his "voice broke with rage and pity at the disgrace of it all, and he felt himself flooded with tears and misery." Worse is to come when the other children look at him as if they had never seen him before. We are shaken by the injustice of it all when even Ravi's mother tells him not to be a baby, Mira tells him to stop howling, and Raghu calls him a fool.
"The ignominy of being forgotten—how could he face it? He felt his heart go heavy and ache inside him unbearably. He lay down full length on the damp grass, crushing his face into it, no longer crying, silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance."
Here, Desai ends the story by cleverly painting for us an image of his solitary grief. He is alone, misunderstood and humiliated despite his courageous attempts at besting his big brother. We feel his disgrace and his misery; this very visual, final imagery of Ravi on the grass provokes us to think back on our own childhoods and we can't help but commiserate with Ravi.
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