My informant, AS, is a 19-year-old Indian male who grew up in Mumbai, though he has lived in Southern California for the past three years. He went to a private school in Mumbai, and this game was played at his school, as well as other schools. This piece was collected during a facetime call, when I asked him to share some traditions from home. I refer to myself as SW in the text.
AS: “I was gonna tell you about a game we used to play in class… it’s called pen fight – where we would take pens that we use to write with and put them on the desk, and you’re supposed to flick your pen so that it hits the other person’s pen, and you’re supposed to like, get them off the desk, just from flicking your pen towards the other one.
SW: “That sounds nearly impossible.”
AS: “No! It was, it was so much fun. Not in one go you get like multiple goes. You go once, then the other person goes, and so on and so forth.”
SW: “That still sounds nearly impossible.”
AS: “How? I think you’re imagining it wrong. Like, take a pen, flick one end of it so that it like, flings towards the other pen and it hits it.”
SW: “Right. You’re forgetting that I have absolutely zero hand eye coordination.”
AS: “Hahaha yeah. But, it basically came down to who had a heavier pen. But sometimes you’d just play like, with random pens. That was a big part of like, seventh, eighth grade. Everyone played that.”
AS: “Cause we had nothing better to do. And then eventually it got so bad that like, while we were playing that pens would leak, get onto our shirts, and… teachers had to step and be like ‘yeah this is not allowed anymore. You can’t play this.’”
SW: “But did you keep playing it even after it was technically banned?”
AS: “Of course. It was addicting. It was so addicting that we would like, beg our teachers for free periods just so we could play that. Cause breaks weren’t enough… And then people would buy like, expensive pens just so they could play pen fight with them. They wouldn’t even care like, about whether they damaged the pen or not. They just cared about the win.”
SW: “So was there like, this whole hierarchy of who was better at and stuff?”
AS: “Yes there was. It was actually one of the… it was actually a thing like, even though there was like a hierarchy of ya know, cool people and uncool people, it was actually the one thing that actually brought us together, in a way. Just, nobody cared about class, in that context.”
Pen fight is a good example of Children’s folklore and folk games. The rules are very easy and anyone can play, as the only materials required are a pen and a table of some sort. The game served to bring the students together as everyone played and enjoyed it. Since Indian culture can often be sharply divided by class, it’s important to have practices that bring people together that may not otherwise interact, and games are a good way to accomplish this. The fact that my informant would buy pens specifically for use in pen fight shows how invested the students were in this game. Additionally, the game seems to have served as a way to test boundaries by doing something that was “banned” but ultimately not dangerous, which can be an important part of children developing identity and learning to think for themselves away from authority figures.