On a recent trip to Switzerland, we stopped for lunch at a small picnic spot by the road. A non descript village on the way home. Apart from the usual bench, swing and water source, there was a sandpit with toy trucks, dumpsters and excavators. A ping pong table stood in one corner with the racquets and ball lying in a plastic bag underneath. An open invitation to play. And play we did…..
That’s when I started noticing. Whether we were at a gas station or a ticket counter, a lake side or a mountain top, there were play areas everywhere. With monkey bars and swings, cuddly soft toys, bats and balls, trampolines and see- saws, giant chess boards and miniature play houses. On the weekend these places were filled with children and adults like. In stark comparison to our patronising instruction to children, “Go play outside,” their message seemed to be, “Let’s play.”
Apart from the fact that children are more likely to emulate adults instead of following orders, parents are also benefited from this ‘ quality’ time. Grown ups can do with a lesson in sportsmanship. Learn not to sulk on losing and gloat on winning. There are other less obvious rewards too. In the rat race that is life, we tend to lose the ability to think out of the box, to get pleasure out of little things, to be guilt free when engaged in ‘trivial’ pursuits. Playing with children and toys helps in reclaiming this lost ground.
The truth is that everybody has a little child with in, looking for an excuse to escape. By creating these spaces, and presenting opportunity, it becomes easier to keep this inner child alive.
Decades ago I had given away cute life size dolls as prizes in a doctors meeting. Although we were celebrating Friendship Day, I was a little scared that members might find the gesture frivolous. On the contrary, ladies loved them and some still keep the dolls as prized possessions. My grandmother had, what we children liked to call, her own doll house. Actually it was a small brass temple with the entire pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. Each day she would spend hours bathing and dressing them. She painstakingly made necklaces and crowns with tiny beads and cute little cushions for their thrones. On Diwali and Ramanavami new clothes were made out of ribbons and lace. I still wonder whether she did it out of religious devotion or was just reliving a childhood fantasy.
The name of the US toy store chain Toys R Us with the reverse R has always intrigued me. What could they possibly mean….that they are toys….that toys make them…that they make toys? Now I have come to understand that toys are us, toys have a large role in making us what we are. Toys reflect our childhood that’s why they enchant us. If Ludo and saanp seedhi still interests you, if your eyes stay glued to a spinning top till it wobbles and tips over, if a kaleidoscope fascinates you even though you know it’s just mirrors and bits of broken glass. If you take great interest in choosing return gifts for your child’s birthday party. You can be rescued from the rut of adulthood, at least temporarily.
On the other hand if you couldn’t get past my first few lines. If you got stuck at the description of the table tennis equipment and toy trucks, lying unguarded. If you are still wondering how they can stay there, why no one stole them. If you are despairing that in our country even the table would disappear if it wasn’t screwed to the ground. Then you need to play more often. Let go of the worries of the world, look beyond the acquired wisdom and accumulated knowledge of years of existence and live. Just live.
By the way the setup surprised me too, but that is another story for another time. Baby steps…….
( published in my column in the Tribune on 10/8/19)