Tuesday, November 15, 2011

i-Rich x-Childhood vs Rich Childhood

Sometime ago we happened to be at a Mall, and I saw some great excitement happening over some great purchase, and two grown up chaps, kind of victoriously walked out with two biggish things in two bags. I was told by my daughter that they had bought something like Xbox related stuff. Then I recalled that she had once gone with some friends because one of them wanted to purchase a PlayStation something for  a young nephew, all of 5 years.

To this day, I don't know what these things are. All I know is that these are setups that allow you to play interactive games on screen. And I am puzzled. I mean if I was a small child and was shown this stuff, I would certainly be attracted to it, and would probably get crazy about it , in time. But what prompts  sensible well meaning adults, to buy such  things for kids at an age when they should be playing outside with other kids ?  is it a false sense of prestige, a halo that says "we are the IT generation" ,  or is it a desperation to keep up with the equally ignorant Joneses ?

As a child, we were never at a loss,  for games to play. None of these needed special things like racquets. A ball was easily available everywhere. Gardens abounded, people had swings in houses,  and we even had games that we invented that we could play on staircases.  Weekend early mornings, we would take off to the Parvati Hill temple ,  with art stuff and eating stuff, pretend to draw sunrises, while polishing off some decent poha and lemon juice, and cucumbers sprinkled with salt and cayenne. 

On cold winter evenings (Pune had and continues to have  a terrific winter season), it got dark earlier and as children we would watch my father doing his yoga exercises. Much to everyone's chagrin, we would wait till he did Sheershaasan (headstand), and then climb on a stool to try and put books on his inverted feet, to see if he could balance them . (He could. ).  We even tried out some stuff sitting alongside, trying to outdo his hum while he did  Pranayam. And our hum always ended in a fit of giggles.

Thousands of  moons later, when my children were small, they too had the run of the colony where we lived, climbing trees, collecting some strange beans , which they would religiously pound with serious intent, believing they were making cork balls, which they thought was what was inside cricket balls.  Cycling was learned.  There were tricycle and bicycle races, prizes, sandwiches and lemonade. There were bars to keep vehicles away from the lake (opposite which we lived then), and it was primarily used by my daughter to do various acrobatic somersaults, hanging by the feet  and stuff, till one day she fell down in her great enthusiasm, and some folks brought her home, and she had some stitches done  on her chin.  The two wheeler ramp in the building (being near the lake, it was a bit raised) was used for running down the slope with blue underwear over full pants, and a blue bed sheet tied at the neck, trailing behind you, in what everybody was told, was superman, all this often watched by an ambling cow, with a disgusting snort.

Of course,  cricket, football et al existed.  BCCI had not yet become greedy about TV rights, so much of it was played between 2 buildings , with someone's car licence plate as the stumps.

The best was when we visited the grandparents in Pune. And the ultimate was when the cousins from the US were also there.

Mornings were dedicated to climbing hills, going to the Peshwe Park near which we lived.  My father would carry and endless supply of peanuts, jaggery and cucumbers, carefully packed by my mother. These would be imbibed after everyone had had their fill of swings,slides, merrygorounds, see saws and the like.  Sometimes there was a boat ride. Sometimes an elephant ride. Sometimes they simply ran behind the elephant as it majestically strode around with passengers. Back home, grubby and once all the baths took place, there was this story session with Amar Chitra Kathas.  All of them would sit cheek by jowl on the sofa crushed against their grandfather, who told these stories with much expression and acting, and it was entertaining to see the kids' expressions change.  There were favourite stories told again and again. They believed every single word of what was happening.  They would even recite some of the smart sayings by someone , by heart.

When walking around to the park became difficult because of undisciplined traffic, my father would take the car. One time they were so taken in by the story of Hanuman tearing apart his chest to show  Ram Sita and Laxman  standing inside, smiling, that my father ended up driving them to an old temple in a crowded part of Pune, where an entire external wall depicted this event. In brilliant color. I can just imagine this whole group standing there gazing at all that,  watched indulgently by old ladies in nine yard sarees who had come for a pravachan....

Back from their evening trips, my father would retire to do his yoga exercises,  and all of them learnt quite a bit of them just observing him.  They behaved much better than I did at their age, and did not try to balance books on by father's feet when he did Sheershasan.   

There weren't any TV shows and stuff then, simply because my folks hadn't bought a TV but there was no lack of excitement.  I don't ever remember playing with guns myself as a child.

I don't remember that my kids ever played with guns. But I do remember, that someone once  presented my son with a small wooden sword and shield , and he used it to run after a cow that had crashed through our fence and was messing up ,  what passed for a garden then. I am sure the cow was not impressed at all with the weaponry, but probably played heed to the shouting.  And left in a hurry. With a snort.

At one point the weather became hot, and my father decided to take the car. Some additional kids were visiting and the whole lot piled into the little Fiat.  My father started the Fiat, and there was a huge noise, with smoke coming from the engine side.  ( The previous evening they had taken the car through a huge pothole. By accident, but the children were thrilled no end with the bumps.  Apparently the battery left its mooring and fell sideways inside the engine enclosure. They reached home, but the whole night, acid must have dripped all over inside. The next morning, the ignition switch was reason enough for something to cause a minor explosion inside. ). Nothing could have delighted the kids more. This was like the movies, which no one took them to see.

I remember all this, and then I wonder, about  there being hardly any toy shops then. 

Today, besides having a wide variety of toy shops,  we have a dedicated populace that believes that life is all about sitting in front of a screen and playing, say, tennis, tabletennis, wars, chasing soldiers , or whatever. Many of these "games" are  "battles" with "killing" and "revenge". The excuse given , is that there are very few green spaces in cities.  Kids spend the entire day in studies and tuitions.  Internet means you write stuff in SMS lingo on Facebook, and say things you wouldn't have the guts to say to someone's face.

There are so many contraptions, fancy phones, cameras, music systems and so many parents rich enough, who have money to spare to buy these for the children, but not the time.  For their children.

I just wonder who had a richer childhood .



  1. A true sentiment, one I share with you. I miss my dadi keeping a casserole full of berries and 3 apples for me when i returned from school. Playing hide and seek in a giant bush of bers(indian jujubes). It was heaven, i pity children these days who with their parents prefer wafers and soft-drinks over fruits, leaves more for me :P

  2. I do so agree with you, too! I didn't have a happy childhood when I was little, but I had a wonderful one when my four kids were growing up and when we did so many things together, shared so many fun things. No video games, we didn't even watch that much regular TV. There were trips to take and hikes, there were horses to take care of and to ride. We even made a game out of their paper routes! I went with them at 4 AM -- not because I had to, but because it was a fun time for us, particularly in the winter when there was lots of snow. We started out at 4:30 in the morning!! There wasn't a footprint in sight and it was as though we were the only ones in the world! And there were great trips in the summer. It was, at least for us, the best of all times!


  3. Loved loved loved your post..and I think I need a whole blogpost to tell you my feelings...I do remember the similar thing happening to our Fiat and bro and I were so excited we started clapping while poor Appa was left fighting under the bonnet of the car..hehehe :)

  4. Ahh this is so nostalgic. Made me remember mine. I never went home after school, left my bag on the porch and ran off to play. I was hauled back by an irate mother, tired, sweaty and grimy, sent to bathe. Then I fell asleep on my home work.

  5. i am feeling like squealing in excitement ...i had i had...hahhaa
    and jump on my parents's back...and say..hoooo...aapko dara diya..


  6. Public space, open space is very limited now .. that is one of the cause of turning to artificial and passive sports/activity.

  7. It is so different now. My children would play outside, simple pleasures and now my little granddaughter's visit holding these little things in their hands.
    Continually pushing buttons. They are really smart but their interests are so different then when their parents were growing up. I notice I seldom
    see children playing outside anymore. Mine stayed outside.
    Wonder about future generations.

  8. i almost felt as if you were describing my childhood. what a lovely post! too much technology for kids is one of my pet peeves too. my one and a half year old daughter has watched maybe a total of one hour of TV (and by watch I mean that she was there when the TV was on). i hope to keep it that way for as long as possible.

  9. It is a rhetorical question, isn't it?

    When parents are themselves making up for a lack of gadgets in their childhood (!!), they are supposed to be giving their kids what they missed growing up!

    We're happy to live way behind the curve. My kids are playing 'thread' - cat's cradles with a vengeance. Have to confiscate it to get other chores done.

    A lot of people end up going this way because there's less space and security for kids these days. Those who can choose not to and have their kids play outside are very fortunate.

  10. This post makes me miss my childhood so much. I dont think Xbox , facebooks etc can replace what we ever had. I am in my 30s now and I feel we probably are one of the last generations to have experienced the childhood as you described. Post 90's kids in India dont know if they do even relate to this? Would be interessting to know..

  11. Richer is relative ! :)

    I wonder what new things await us. And what these kids will say when they are old !!

    Brought back a good memory set !

  12. I agree! I lived without Tv and in the rich world of my imagination for many many years... in fact, I think I'm sometimes still there...

  13. I think we had a richer experience as children. I have written something about the over burdened robots that are passed off as children in my latest post.

    My brothers were perpetually perched on a guava tree as children and my husband could not wait for my MIL to open the gate as a child. He'd just jump over. We now have children in their 9th / 10th standards who are sent by school vans. They are not encouraged to go to a nearby shop by walk or by a cycle. It has to be a two wheeler. Who can tell these parents that cycling is healthy and helps children understand the rules of the road. No wonder we have teenagers crashing into people's cars.

  14. So true. Kids need downtime from technology. Ignore 'I am bored' and 'can I play on the computer' pleading and set a time when these activities can be resumed. After a while they will find something to do - read a book, play with toys, spend time with the dog and even go outside and play. As a two year old my daughter got more fun out of an empty shoebox than any other toy we would buy her. We would frequently find the shoe cupboard open and her sitting in front of it. Hmm now that she is in her teens maybe the fascination with shoes might just start coming back but this time I suspect its not the shoe box that will make her happy.