Children's day is round the corner. Remembering Nehru and his love of children and roses is the order of the day. Children are given a holiday to enjoy on his birthday. There are fun games arranged, workshops at a price. Toffees are given away free.

Children these days do not know what fun they are missing. In the days gone by, they swam in the ponds and wells, splashing water all around. Their plaits wet, girls went to school. Their mothers did not have the time to unwind those plaits, dry the hair and plait it again. For, children were children, and they forgot their sense of time when they went to play. They got wet in the rain, played in muddy water, dirtied their clothes and played football with stones en route to school. Their shoes obviously took a beating but it was fun nevertheless.

They threw stones in ponds and enjoyed the ripples and contests were arranged as to who could throw the stone the farthest and create the largest ripples.

They played hopscotch to their heart's content. Their joy knew no bounds if they went to beach. They built houses in sand meticulously and then razed them to the ground. They watched the sea in awe but ventured to explore the waves breaking their feet. They wrenched their hands from their elders and exploded in laughter as wave after wave collapsed around them. Collecting shells and chasing the crabs were fun too.

They played marbles and tops. Each play had a season. Nobody knew who decided when the next season began. When they started flying the kites, the tops were placed away for the next year.

Cycling was pure fun. They rode behind each other, screeching and screaming. Some went down the slopes to crash into gutters and got themselves hurt. Did they care? They went crying back to their mothers who put the simple remedy of “tincture” to their bruises or just plain oil. Some bore the bruises silently as their moms would give them a spanking.

The old cycle tyre was their vehicle. They raced down the roads rolling it with a stick. One went after the other and although there were no strict rules to follow, they went into roads and bylanes each overtaking the others with glee.

Where are the dolls these days? Girls played “house with dolls” and coffee, rice and vegetables were cooked in coconut shells, mud leaves and stones. Elders who had the time joined their play and pretended to drink and eat what they cooked. The kids learnt to stitch tiny frocks and blouses for their dolls and plaited or ponytailed their hair. The boy dolls got shirts and pants. Rubber toys floated in rivers and ponds.

Cute whistles were made from coconut fronds and the air was filled with joyous, screeching sounds. Watches too were made from the fronds and children sported them to “say time”.

Paper boats were fun to make. Uncles who had the time taught the little ones how to make them. Some were made with knife under the ship which they called the “fighter ship.” And if it rained the children had a gala time floating their ships and boats. Airplanes made of paper flew all over the hall. Elders sneered, so what?

Afternoons were spent reading stories — the Panchatantra, the Jataka tales, Birbal and Tenali. Aesop's, Grimm's and Enid Blyton filled the shelves in houses where parents could afford to buy them. Children visited parks, the zoo, the circus and villages during the summer vacation to be with their grandparents and uncles /aunts.

Holidays were fun. They plucked mangoes from farms and were caught red-handed. While fleeing, some of their booty fell off their skirts or trousers. If caught, they were tied to a tree to be released only when an elder from their house arrived. Have you ever tasted a tender tamarind? The children plucked it from the roadside trees. The tender leaves were just as tangy and fun to share. They ate the cucumbers and green legumes plucked right from the bunds where they grew as fence for paddy and other crops.

Oil bath was a must bur children disliked it. The moms and grandmas chased the kids with a bowl of oil in hand.

Watching birds and cows and chasing chickens were enjoyable. Not a care about the world. They rushed into anyone's house screaming or playing hide and seek. The families of uncles and aunts stayed close by. Snacks were often kept in huge containers and given to the little ones in polished coconut shells.

As night fell, grandmas regaled them with tales even as they fed them food under moonlit skies. Rice mixed with sambar or curd was not served on plates. It was handed down as small morsels in their little hands.

Attics in most houses housed dolls and old vessels. Children hid in them to escape spanking for doing mischief. Sometimes, rodents rushed out of their hiding, sending the children squealing.

They learnt classical music from music teachers who visited the house. Some children who could not afford the music teachers listened to music sitting on top of the tiled roofs.

They chased the squirrels, fed the crows and spoke and sung to birds like parrots, which were sometimes housed in cane cages if they were caught when they were hurt and fell down. They took turns in looking after them.

Teachers at schools wore turbans and had a stick ready to spank. Children did dread the stick and yet they learnt a lot more than their syllabus like respect for elders and knowledge about the world. They sometimes helped the teachers with their household work. In return, they were taught music and dance.

The jhula or swing was common in most households and children came from nearby places to play. They were scolded, yelled at when things went out of control, but who cared? There wee improvised swings too — thick tyres were tied to branches and they swung to their heart's content sitting on them. Most houses had courtyards and during the rain when outdoor games were not possible, they ran around the courtyard for a “catch me if you can” game. Sometimes the rain came in torrents and filled the courtyard and when the vents were blocked there arose a swimming pool in the middle of the house.

They climbed trees or walls without fear. They went on errands at the drop of a hat and in return got tiny favours — a cake, a sweet or an outing.

But what is the scenario today? The ubiquitous TV brings in the cartoon network, the wholetime entertainment. Books lie unread. Heavier school bags and lunch boxes make a huge “C” of their backs. A flexible spine to survive later in life? Schools with more syllabus than they can retain in their little brains. Their mind goes after the birds, squirrels puppies and kitten but they are reined in and dragged back to studies. Studies are exam-oriented and teachers no longer tell stories to keep them mesmerised with their studies.

Homework is a burden with each teacher forgetting that their other colleagues would have assigned just the same amount or more of homework. There is little time for play. Mornings spent on homework, evenings spent at tuitions. Holidays have extra “projects”.

The houses fall silent in the evenings. “Will you please shut up go finish that homework? Can't you see I'm busy?” reprimand parents. No screaming, no talking, and no asking, no, no, no. Marbles, pebbles, shells are replaced by a whole lot of gadgets, toys and computers. Some are fortunate spending holidays at hill stations trekking, attending cricket workshops or painting sessions.

Yes, we want them to grow up as responsible citizens and do well in life. But aren't they missing their fun-filled childhood days?

(The writer's email id is: sathyavijay1@yahoo.com)

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