Watching today’s children play “Fairy, may I cross the river” sets this writer musing on how things remain the same despite the many changes over the years.

The angst of Gen X, Y et al lies in the realm of GG or generation gap. Super-cool kids cannot see eye to eye with antiquated adults. It does not matter if the elder is only a few years older. They beg to differ on almost everything because they live in different times and circumstances. Their mentality seems to be justified. After all, didn’t all of us “older people” go through this phase when we were younger?

Yet, if one scratches the surface, it is easy to see nothing much has changed. It is just a case of old wine in new bottles. While it has made sense to me in various contexts, it gained a haloed status after a particular incident, when I observed a couple of children respond to situations in a way unchanged across time and space.

Once, I was assigned the responsibility of babysitting an eight and nine-year-olds for a while. I planned on keeping an eye on them as I let them play. So I asked whether they enjoyed playing games outside of school. They smiled in assent. Then I asked them whether they enjoyed indoor games or the outdoor variety. Pat came the answer, “That depends on the weather, aunty.” So I plied them with another query about their favourite game. This time, they answered animatedly. I gathered that they enjoyed different versions of playstation and online games while at home and enjoyed “gaming” outdoors, preferably at a videogame station. They did play cricket on the streets occasionally during bandhs and at cricket camps in summer, besides a bit of bowling or so. It was clear that they were completely innocent of creative fun games that involved the mind and body and cost next to nothing.

I asked tentatively if they would care to play a game, which we played at their age. They nodded politely. I explained that the game was called, “Fairy, may I cross the golden river?” Here, the youngest was chosen to be a fairy and he/she would have to stand in the centre of the ground with two lines drawn about 10 feet away on either side. These represented the banks of the river. The other young people had to stand on one side and ask “Fairy, May I cross the golden river?” The fairy would reply in the negative. Then the little ones had to ask “Why?” and the fairy would say, “Because you must have a certain colour!” The children would chime together in chorus, “Which colour?” The fairy would look carefully at the group and name a colour that none seemed to possess. If a child had the colour, he/she had a safe passage to the other bank. If not, the fairy would turn into a crocodile and catch the kids who tried to rush to the other bank. The unfortunate one who got caught would be crowned the next Fairy!

The young ones got the hang of the game and set the ball rolling. I observed that the fairy’s colour palette had an exotic range from beige, mauve to cyan. The children checked even the inside of their pockets to claim safe passage before they tried to scoot across. Just like we did all those decades ago!

After a couple of rounds, they decided to take a brief break and disappeared into the house. Post-break, some of them looked particularly colourful, wearing multi-hued scarves, hairbands and bracelets, completely armed to stride across the river.

I could not help reminiscing how some of us would whip out dozens of colourful bangles and wear them on either wrist as some kind of an amulet to please the fairy. The boys would carry coloured yarns in their pockets to cross the river without incident. Now, when we played the game as children, the fun would cease once the game reached this saturation point. I could see the waning signs in these kids too!

I remembered how one enterprising teacher suggested that the fairy conduct a quiz of sorts. The ones who gave the right answers could cross the golden river without incident. In the event of a wrong answer … you know the drill. We accepted the idea and played for a while, till it became tedious. Besides, the new rules led to arguments about the right answer and we had to rush to find an encyclopaedia or a knowledgeable adult to clear our doubts and sort out our squabbles. We gave up playing the game after the initial charm was lost.

Nevertheless, I suggested the subsequent sequel to the kids when we parted ways. And history repeated itself. I learned that the kids passed on the game to novices at their schools and birthday parties. The game, invariably, took the same predictable turns and met the same end, but never failed to inspire players to pass the legacy on.

What is true of this game is true of many aspects of life. Times have changed, so have people and their mindsets. Yet, in a given situation, our reactions and responses are more or less likely to be the same for we seem to go through the same motions of life albeit in different times.

When white light is passed through a prism, it diverges into rainbow colours. The converse is also true. The philosophy of this experiment reveals that all colours are components of white light and vice versa. If it is a principle of nature how can man be an exception?

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Trash talkingAugust 3, 2013