Dying a slow death

Tenzin Namgyal, Thimphu

The once popular game of parala (dice) is now become a game of the past

There was a time when people were greeted by a loud sound resembling someone chopping a hard dry oak branch, as one walked along the busy Hongkong Market area in Thimphu. The same sound used to reverberate around the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM), day in and out. But such sound seem to have become a thing of the past and what was once a popular game played within and outside homes appear to be slowing dying or dead.

The reference here is to the game of parala, a game requiring wit, dialogue and energy and in the words of Kezang, 52, a resident of CFM, “the love of his life”.

“It is indeed sad that this game is no longer played, and there are many reasons behind it,” Kezang says.

According to him, the introduction of several other games, such as Marriage and recently Poker are the main reasons. “Apart from this, with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) cracking down on gambling, it became difficult for people to play the dice,” he says, underlining that without “making some sound or noise,” the charm of the game is lost. “While playing ‘parala’, you need to pound the dice in the cup hard and shout or cheer. If you play the game without doing this, there is no charm at all.” Kezang adds that neighbours began to lodge complaints to the police when such games were played, which ultimately led to people showing lesser interest in the game. “It just fizzled out.”

Speaking along the same lines, Tshering Dorji, living in the YHS Zone in Thimphu, recalls the days when he and his friends used to come out in the open area and play the game. “I have not played it for about five years now and it shows how the game is slowing dying,” he says, adding that when he, an ardent lover of the game has stopped playing, “it says a lot about how the popularity of the game has fallen.” On reasons behind this, Tshering also says that the “nature in which the game has to be played” is one of the main reason. “It is not like the past. We need to take into consideration the fact that neighbours would be disturbed and other facets. People would just call the police. Otherwise, we need to play the game in a sound proof room.”

Tshering has another “probable reason” that could have “led to the slow decline in the game’s popularity.” “ ‘Parala’ is also gambling and in the last couple of years, we have seen a huge rise in the number of women who gamble. As this is not a game that women play, it could have led to the slow decline in the number of people who play the game and then the ultimate drastic reduction,” he says.

A corporate worker, Sangay Dorji also says that the game has lost its zeal and popularity due to the advent of other popular games. “There was a time when it was difficult to get a seat to play the game in the area I live. Usually, three people play the game but there used to be four playing the game. Now it’s the reverse and it is difficult to get people to play the game,” he says. When asked about probable reasons, Sangay underlines that games such as Marriage and Poker have become very popular. “Moreover, in cards, people have flexibility to change games. I also play cards. When we are bored after sometime by playing Marriage, we can switch onto Flush or Poker. Dice does not have this kind of flexibility,” he says. Sangay further notes that Dice had become a major “gambling game,” which could have led to its decline. “Dice is more of a social game to me. But then, it reached a stage where people were playing at stakes of Nu 10,000 per game. You lose Nu. 100,000 if you cannot win for 10 hands, which is possible. There have been instances like this and when three people are playing, the probability of two ganging up against one is there,” he says, which according to him has led to several issues, where one alleged the other two of playing foul. “These are also some reasons that could have contributed to the decline in the game’s popularity.”

Meanwhile, there are people who have begun to play the game by downloading an app from the internet. Kezang from the CFM is one. “There is not much charm like playing the original game, but it is a good alternative,” he says. When asked if “parala” would make a comeback, Kezang is pessimistic. “I do not think so and the younger generation do not even know the game. Ultimately, the game will die a slow death.”