If you had ever asked me if I play board games, my usual reply would have been “only if I'm bored.”

You see, I have rarely been bored. I have always had a fast-running train of thoughts and ideas in my head. A train that rarely ever stopped. Random thoughts on that too. Be it what song would match the background, what am I going to have for dinner, or what in the world it means to tessellate. Either way, I never did manage to enjoy the process of diving into a board game. I was never bored enough. That was until Baba introduced me to this game called Catan.

But. I wouldn't be doing justice to this letter if I didn't talk about Baba before talking about Catan. So let me introduce you to Baba, aka Mr. Jaydeepsinh Jhala. This odd soul I met in 2017 during my infamous crusades in Swachhalay, an NGO I worked for.

In fact, I still remember the first time I met him. I was preboozing near a burger joint when, out from the corner of the dimly lit street, came this rather thin, oddly clothed afrohead (not sure if you can call it an afro). He had his sides trimmed, but his hair above was curled up in dismay. Wearing brown harem pants, a white kurta, a brown leather jacket, and kolhapuri chappals.

For a minute, I thought he was a random hippie. But then he sneered out a smile at me. That neat, sinister smile. The kind that makes you think, “Is he coming here to do what I'm doing? Maybe he is.”

He introduced himself as Jaydeep. But we don't call him that. We just call him Baba. Not simply because he dresses like a baba (a rich baba). We call him Baba because he looks like one too. He has a straight face with sharp edges, a beard that comes down to his lower neck, and hair covering his entire body. In his words, the Anil Kapoor kind: “Itne baal hain, ki agar makhi bhi aaye, to atak jaye” (So much hair, that if a fly dares to fly by, it'll get stuck).

But he wasn't the shabby kind. Baba has always been well-groomed and well-dressed. The reason we call him Baba is that Baba always gives Goa vibes. And Baba always dresses like he lives in Goa. So Baba is Baba.

As much as I'd love to keep talking on and on about Baba, this space would barely fit just this one encounter with Baba and Boardom (I do hope I'm the first one to coin this word). So without further ado, let's fast forward to 2023, when Baba quit being Baba and instead became a vegan board game-loving Baba. And I did not know that before I dropped on his door this random morning.

The way I got introduced to it was rather hysterical, too. I showed up at his door with a bottle of old monk rum, and Baba said he quit drinking.

So I started to make my peg and asked him, “What are we going to do?” To which he said, “Have you played AoE? Age of Empires. It’s AoE with Marco Polo. But as a board game.”

Wait. You mean like Monopoly?

Bacha hai kya! (Are you a kid or what?)

Baba glanced around the room, reached out towards this bug red bag, and out he pulled this big red box of this wonderful torturous nightmare called Catan, short for The Settlers of Catan.

After like 2 pegs and what felt like way more than 2 hours, I was hooked. I'm hooked on the feeling that I found a game I can love. By the time we completed the second game, it was well into the night. And I was scrolling through Amazon because there was a discount on the game. And I bought it.

Maybe it was the alcohol that played a part in influencing me, or maybe it was the excitement we fed on through the night. One way or another, Catan really changed me. It wasn't just a game. It was a life-changing experience, to say the least. There were times I would rather play Catan than play my guitar. I even introduced it to all my friends to such an extent that people would tell me not to bring Catan when I came to meet them.

Now you might be thinking, “Why is he rambling about a bloody game when we're here to find out about Baba Ka Jaadu (baby's magic)?”

The reason I'm rambling about Catan is that around July, I traveled to Mumbai to see my parents. And by the end of that trip, I forgot my box of Catan and the expansion pack. It sounds more like a video game now, doesn’t it? Wait till you see the DLCs. Yes, they’re literally called Catan DLCs.

And now that I have come back to Mumbai and am playing this game again, my life seems to have taken on a new shape. I haven't felt this sure and happy about things for a good while.

That was the magic. AoE on a board game. Catan was my baba ka jaadu. That beautiful feeling of Baba's comforting hug whenever I play Catan. That is the magic that I intend to share with you. Not by words, but by feelings.