Kuntala defines a friend as someone from whom she can borrow a blogging inspiration, but for me, a friend is someone whose blog posts feel as if they were written by me. I like a lot of bloggers on the Internet, but there are very few that I identify with. This is the reason why I consider Kuntala a friend. This is also the reason why she is almost useless as an inspiration for me – when she has written on a topic, she has written the exact same things that I would have written if I had chosen to write on that topic, and in a much better way. I hardly ever have anything to add.
So while I can, let me steal a subject and write a post before she gets a chance to spoil it for me. For all I know, she may have written something on toys already that I missed.
What is a toy? As my nephew gets a tablet PC as his eleventh birthday gift, I wonder if that can be called a toy. The boy already shows amazing talent with his Wii console – a thing that, when I was his age, would have been more fairy tale than science fiction. The toys that his younger brother owns make some kind of electronic sound if I happen to step on them lying about the room at night. For me, the state-of-the-art in toy sophistication was a battery operated “remote controlled” fire engine that was actually connected to the remote control via a cable. Anything else that moved, lit up or produced sound was operated either manually or by a wound-up spring.
But even these toys, although they belonged to me, were mostly from my sister’s childhood days. Before that, when I was the only child in the house, things were considerably simpler.
When I was a small child, almost every toy that I played with was a rubber doll of some sort – be it a human baby, a bear or a monkey. The most they could do was squeak on being squeezed (a functionality that didn’t last too long) and everything else was left to my imagination. Even the cars and the airplanes that I owned had to be rolled on the ground to make them move. There was a green rotary telephone whose dial had a spring just like a real one – imagine my delight when I would dial a number and the dial would return to its original position on releasing. If, on reading this far, you think we were dumb, then it’s better if I don’t tell you about the functional telephone that I had for some time – it consisted of cups attached to the ends of a long plastic pipe. Other short-lived toys included monkey-shaped balloons, a paper crocodile fitted with a dried mud wheel controlled by a string (description useless unless you have seen one), or a plastic horse which jumped forward by means of an accordion-like pipe in its stomach when air was pumped via a long tube fitted with small bellows. Probably nobody understands what I am talking about anymore, because these were the days before the battery operated “Made in China” toys hijacked the market.
But if you think our toys were boring, think again. The black Leo submachine gun could have been the perfect prop for a kid playing “Navy Seal Team 6” had such a role playing game existed back then, but it was detested by the elders because it made so much noise, and hence had to be used with moderation in order to avoid confiscation. I also had real sophisticated toys – the boy with the cymbals who clapped them when wound up, the white horse and the furry dog that walked when would up, and the little Leo ladybug that also walked with a buzzing sound when wound up. These were kept in our showcase and I only got to play with them once in a while. And I only wanted to play with them once in a while.
Oh yes, I almost forgot the various kinds of building blocks and one jigsaw puzzle that consisted of a dozen cubical blocks which could be arranged to make six different animal pictures.
As I grew older, toys increased in sophistication. My new gun fired bullets and I soon developed an amazing skill in shooting the plastic bottle that came with it. More and more toys had spring-driven mechanisms. When some rich kids got something new called “video game,” I got the poor man’s version of it which was a small transparent box filled with water. By pumping a soft part of the box, small objects like beads or hoops inside the water could be made to jump about. And when my parents went to Europe they brought that fire engine for me. They also brought cars with – would you believe it – opening doors! It never mattered to me these cars had no driving mechanism; I just spent hours and hours with those scale-models of a Jaguar and a Porsche.
My sister had her own share of toys, of course. She had several dolls that closed their eyes when they were made to lie down, but her favourite was her daughter Timi – the white teddy bear from London. But for most part, even her toys were static things like doctor’s instruments and small kitchen utensils that required imagination to play with. And yet she played with her toys way more interactively than a kid does today. Much later, she got her first Barbie.
In spite of the lack of sophistication and battery power in our toys, we never felt we were missing out on something. Now it may be argued that people miss something only when they know it exists, but that’s not the point here. The point that I am trying to make is that the enjoyment derived from a toy depends mainly on the imagination of the child and not on the sophistication of the toy. That is the reason that I could spend more time playing with tiny metal balls in a circular maze than the kids of today can spend with their Gameboys without getting bored.
You may call it a case of the sour grapes, but I think our toys were way better as playthings. They let our imagination run wild. For instance, we were free to imagine what the teddy bear’s voice would be like rather than having to accept some pre-recorded electronic voice. And we also played with lots of odds-and-ends: broken bits from real world objects that could be put to various uses in the toy world. And lastly, I may not have had electronic toys in my childhood, but most of the toys that I had are still in “working” condition. I would like to see my nephew’s Wii console after twenty years. And there's no way his tablet PC can outlast my tablet - the slate chalkboard.
I agree to what Kuntala says: our childhood days may seem poor when we try to count the things that we didn't have back then, but the things that we did have would surely surprise the current generation kids.