They indigenous toy industry in our country is in the news at the moment. All of us, manufacturers and users, young and old, can relate to toys at some level, can’t we? Many of us have a clear memory of our favourite toy as a child, or one we always wanted but could not afford, or a toy that was taken away from us, or even a toy we were loathe to discard and still secretly store in the garage or attic.
Half a century ago, as youngsters in small sleepy towns, our collection of toys was sparse. That, however, did not curtail our time at play – for we either created our own toys or made up games as the need arose.
Thus, our brother had an endless supply of wooden sling shots, whittled by him. He became an ace marksman with them and also hand-crafted darts with nails, twine and old pencils or twigs, and roped us into holding out paper targets for him to practice – in almost William Tell manner.
The three of us had an arsenal of gulmohar seed pod “weapons”: to be brandished as tomahawk/machete/spear/sword, depending on the characters we represented and in which part of the world we imagined ourselves. (Those seed pods would, no doubt, have served as a wonderful light sabers as well, had we not become adults by the time the Star Wars franchise swept around the world.)
Breezy weather kicked off an elaborate kite-making enterprise – using tissue paper, glue and the sticks of an old broom, and then preparing the special kite string that was coated and hung out to dry. Most often we younger ones were not allowed to actually fly the kites and had to content ourselves with running behind the older ones and their friends with the reel of string. But just being included, our existence thus acknowledged, was gratification enough!
On our own, we girls derived immense pleasure from displaying our dexterity while playing “five stones”. We also had a doll each, and routinely paired them up: organizing weddings, parties, pantomimes and circus performances where we could rapidly move the dolls to make them undertake multiple roles.
Wooden toys were rare – and prized when we got them. Usually, we made off with our seamstress Mother’s empty spools and attached them to boxes of different sizes to make wagons or wheelbarrows or whatever else we required for the day’s activities. When an obliging carpenter made us a doll’s house from an old wooden crate, our cups were full – long before we furnished it with cardboard chairs and tables and held tea parties with a ceramic toy tea set from the local potter!
Luckily for our cash-strapped parents, by the time we reached the big city – and the temptations that lay in the shops – we were almost past the age of playing with toys. We still had a few old treasures and we had also discovered new talents within ourselves and thus began a phase of dressmaking, actually sewing new outfits for the old dolls, and then, when that was too time-consuming, we went into the creation of cut-out paper dolls and fold-on “designer” clothes. There was no limit to the imagination there, and for a brief while, we even fancied a career in fashion design!
Where toys were concerned, ours was a more or less “do-it-yourself” generation and therefore when our son was young, we indulged him – and ourselves, really – as much as we were able. Figurines and moulded castles, blocks and builder’s sets, he had it all.
Or so we thought, until the next “generation” of toys came along. Fortunately by then, our child was no longer a child, and we could admire from afar, keep abreast of the times and the market and not go pop-eyed looking at price tags.
- Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India