Is the joy of small things lost forever?

Published - August 02, 2014 11:44 pm IST

140803 - Open page - Daughters

140803 - Open page - Daughters

I am the mother of a mostly dissatisfied 10-year-old child in a double-income family — the so-called higher middle class today.

She has everything at her disposal — toys, books, clothes, a room to herself, what have you — but is not half as happy as I was at her age. Every time I see her frowning or generally staring away indifferently, I am taken back to my childhood days with my two siblings when we valued and enjoyed the smallest of things that came by far and between.

We were a characteristic middle-class south Indian family. Our outings were limited to the occasional ride on Appa’s bicycle.  The occasion — we had scored good marks or Appa was in a good mood. With me holding on to the backseat and my sister crossing her legs precariously in the “baby” seat fixed on the crossbar in the front, a couple of rounds in the nearby lanes of Pondicherry would put us on top of the world. Then there was the LTC once in five years during summer. It would be a non-air-conditioned class train trip to some part of India. We enjoyed and eagerly waited for those trips, god knows why: not much money was available for shopping and tempers always ran high.

We thoroughly enjoyed those visits to Sarnath, Gaya, Kolkata… walking under the hot sun and eating a slice of raw mango or cucumber — no ice cream or fancy chaat or food courts for us. Appa would walk very fast, explaining the history and geography, and we three tagged along, with Amma barely able to keep pace.

In the non-LTC years, we were packed off to our grandparents. All the neighbourhood children — the locals and the city-slickers —gathered and played in the sun. The innovative games included the hide-and-seek in people’s backyards laden with tamarind and jackfruit, swinging and frequent falling in the swings made of coconut tree barks, honking with the “peepee” made from coconut tree leaves.

When the elders shouted us in, we sat playing with pebbles and pallankuzhi , the traditional game played with shells or tamarind seeds or with manjadi , the red seeds of the Adenantherapavonina tree. Refreshments for these sessions were limited to the jackfruit, gooseberries and raw mango spirited by our friends from their backyards. This was also the time when households made vadams , or sun-dried rice papads) and pickles. We would helpfully lay them out, watch for crows and reward ourselves with a few raw vadams , no questions asked.

Then there was the calling on relatives, like the odd day we would be marched to our athai’s (aunt) house, far away from where we lived. We would walk all the way, saving the bus charge and doing a lot of window-shopping on the way. She was not well-off but would rustle up the tastiest of meals with a raw papaya or spinach from her small garden, rounding it off with the pomegranate she had carefully tied up in polythene and saved from the squirrels that darted up and down the tree all day. All I remember now is that the day would fly by as she sang and told us colourful stories and jokes our parents never would.

Then there were books. We swore by Enid Blyton’s characters, lived in Galliano’s circus. And we had regular instalments of Tintin, Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha from the lending library. We would bribe the librarian (some snacks stolen from home) to save the new editions for us. The long walk there was filled with discussions on the latest character and perhaps some ‘Poppins’ or juice from the money saved from all the walking.

There really was very little money, no TV (forget cable, we didn’t get DD till well into school), no Kindle or iPad, no Xbox or Fischer Price toys, but we were thrilled enough to split the new Cadbury three ways. And wait for what the next day threw up.

And I turn to my daughter. She rarely waits for things, is rarely thrilled beyond seconds and has usually moved on to the next bicycle or earrings or clothes she wants. From the too-little-too-late story of our childhood, kids these days seemingly have too much too soon, losing the sparkle and joy of small things. It is nice to have an improved economy, globalisation and all of that, but could I also have a happy, needy child at home?

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