By Anuva Kulkarni:
It’s July, it’s pouring, and schools and colleges have begun a new year in full swing. As you go for your morning run before heading off to work, you see little faces peeking out of rickshaws, wearing neatly ironed uniforms and ribbons in their hair and you remember your own carefree school days. Wouldn’t you just love to go back to school, sit on the wooden benches, and smell the new books as you waited eagerly to see your friends after the long summer?
But ten years later, it’s not gonna be the same anymore.
I’ve lived in a small town on the outskirts of Mumbai all my school life. Later, I moved to Pune for my higher studies. As I look at city kids now and compare my own childhood to theirs, I find a stark contrast.
During the summer, we would gather up all the children from the neighbourhood and run about and play like there was no tomorrow. Hide and Seek was one of our favourite games, and neighbour’s gardens, crevices in dilapidated walls and stairwells of buildings served us very well, and the game would go on for hours! We would pick raw mangoes, even the little ones, and make sherbet with the one rupee Rasna packets available then. Eight to ten little children, tired after running about in the sun, we would sit in the shade of the verandah of our sprawling house and sip the delicious (watery, really!) sherbet. Sometimes, we would write plays and skits and stage them, inviting the neighbours to watch. At the end of the day, tired, we would fall asleep, but taking with us joy that the summer day had given us, and the promise that tomorrow would be just like today.
Trips would mostly be to our native village on the Maharashtra coast. All we knew was coconut trees swaying in the wind, a serene beach ensconced in between two tall mountains, summer fruits and the winding, narrow village roads. I used to love the cool, sprawling old houses, and the wonderful part about them was that you could climb a rickety wooden ladder placed in a cramped, dark space and it would suddenly open out on the roof! The houses seemed dark, cool and mysterious, just like in the books I had read. The roof was used for drying fruits, grain and other things which would later be stored in large aluminium tins and used throughout the year. My mother would buy these delicacies from the villagers to take home, and we would steal into the store cupboard and sneak out a few pieces of salted imli or such, during the rest of the summer.
This was summer, this was pure, unadulterated childhood joy. In the simplicity of it, there was so much beauty, now that I think about it.
The picture in cities today is so much different. Kids are on Facebook, and put up pictures of trips to Europe and Singapore, but don’t know the cultural heritage of their own country. The gullys are empty. No one plays in the rain, splashes about in the mud. There are so few open grounds left that there are ten teams playing cricket on the same cricket ground, because there’s just no space elsewhere.
There’s a McDonalds, or a CCD, or a Mad Over Donuts at every corner. Donuts have replaced raw mangoes from the garden, and Coca Cola has replaced our home-made sherbet. We’re spending hundreds in coffee shops and on fast food. The pizza on the billboard across the street looks too tempting to resist. Let’s order one right now!
And all the while that we’re spending on things we don’t need, the economy slows down.
Forget the TV, we used to watch a lot of Cartoon Network too! But ipods, tablets, smartphones and laptops occupy most of the day of an average thirteen year old city kid. Why do these devices have to be so important for a child?
Isn’t playing games in a garden outside, with friends, much more satisfying than playing Fruit Ninja on the ipad?
I’m not asking you not to be a global citizen. But I feel that materialism mustn’t embed itself so thoroughly in a child that it prevents the building up of strong foundations. Because of our simple childhood, we learned the value of money. Hundred rupees was a big deal once upon a time. We learned to recognize what we needed and didn’t need, from those humble villagers we encountered. Being close to nature — the wind in the trees, the birds and squirrels- we knew peace.
In one of my favourite movies, ‘Eat Pray Love’, a bearded Italian in a barber’s shop imparts one of the most valuable of life’s lessons to the American Liz Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts. He tells her how Americans know “entertainment”, but they do not know “pleasure”! If you think closely, it would apply to us too.
Life in the 21st century has become so complex, not only for us adults, but also for our younger siblings, our nieces and nephews, and even your neighbours’ ten year old. Think about it, years later, they will not remember much besides CCD and McDonalds’ menus and computer games which will have become obsolete by then. Wouldn’t it be better to encourage them to indulge in simple fun, to play football in the rain, to trek up a mountain to see an ancient Indian cave, to visit a little village and experience the life that most of rural India leads? To be close to trees, rivers, rocks and birds instead of whiling away time in a coffee shop, spending much, talking about nothing in particular?
Readers, give them that childhood. Tell them to go out in the sunshine. Tell them to keep it simple, silly!
About the author:Â A final year engineering student at BITS Pilani, Goa Campus.