This is a guest post by Monisha Mukundan and dwells on the benefits of traditional play the urban world seems to be taking away from children.
Walking towards the stream one day, I passed two little boys intent on their toy. It completely absorbed the attention of both the boy manipulating the device as well as his companion. It was the metal lid of a tin, perhaps a tin of powdered milk or ghee, with rounded edges, and a length of wire. The wire was bent at one end, to hook around the lid. The boy was driving the lid along the cement path with the wire. The path was not smooth and it took skill and concentration to keep the lid turning. The boy’s companion was as intent on the game as he was, perhaps he was waiting for his turn and mentally practicing as he watched.
A few days later, I saw a more sophisticated version, with an old and worn-old scooter tyre and a bamboo stick. A third variation was a proper heavy metal disc, about a foot in diameter, which made a satisfying clatter as it rolled along.
About a week later, walking through the village on a rainy day, I noticed a group of boys playing marbles in a verandah. As I drew closer, I looked carefully at the marbles, remembering the pretty coloured glass ones I had known. All these seemed the same dull opaque colour. As I drew level, I realised they were the smaller rounder fruit of the tea bushes which grew across the road from where the boys were playing. On subsequent days I have seen other games with the usual glass marbles, but for the small boys aping their elders, this was a perfect solution.
The children I see most frequently are those on my way to the village shops. Here an empty plastic coke bottle becomes a football, puddles of water become a place to pause and splash and the muddy rainwater drain beside the road, a place to jump across again and again until the littlest boy falls in with a splash and emerges somewhat bemused but smiling as he rescues his slippers from being swept away.
The bigger boys and one little girl have cycles which they ride madly up and down the slopes. Their elders ride scooters and motorcycles in much the same spirit and will no doubt finally become taxi drivers who tear along the mountain roads to the fear of their passengers.
The only other bazaar bought toy I have seen so far is a plastic truck with a long rope attached to it. Someone had stuck a magenta stuffed animal of indeterminate character into it and a small boy’s mother was running up and down, pulling it behind her while the little boy ran behind her.
When I returned from the shops some time later, I found the stuffed animal had been tightly wrapped in a plastic bag and was being possessively hugged by the small boy’s slightly older sister, while the boy himself hung around. Of the truck there was no sign, nor of the mother. A few days later, I found him playing happily with a length of bamboo. The truck has not reappeared, nor has the stuffed animal.
When my children were young and we lived in Delhi, birthday parties meant a debris of plastic. Multi-coloured blocks, cars tea-cups, puzzles, vessels, dolls, figures of animals and humans and fruit littered our home for weeks after the event. Yet the children’s happiest hours were spent playing in water, in mud, under a tree or in the rain water ditch that ran around the neighbourhood park.
The mountains of plastic masquerading as toys has only increased in the years since my children were young. In the homes of friends, I see plastic and now electronics filling the rooms of their grandchildren. I cannot help wondering why and dreaming of a time when we simply stop buying such toys so that the malls no longer sing their siren songs of fantasy to us as they sell us more and more plastic. And we give back to our children the opportunity to reclaim their sense of joy in imagination and creativity, and in mud and water!
Post contributed by: Monisha Mukundan
About the Author: Monisha is the parent of two children who are now adults, whom she admires enormously. She is a writer of children’s stories and has worked for many years as an editor. She lives in Chennai and Himachal Pradesh.