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The way children spend their time these days is very different from how their parents did when they were young. In this article, a father recounts his childhood and the experience of sharing his memories with his son
Once, some time ago, my son came to me with a worksheet, where he was asked to list a few of his pastimes or extra-curricular activities at home. Alongside, in parallel columns, he had to write down his parents’ childhood activities. Like any city-bred child of his age living in a concrete jungle of high-rises, he confidently jotted down his list – watching his favorite serial, playing mobile games, calling up nani and dadi, spending time with friends at the (apology of a) park, going to the mall with us, etc.
When he read what I and my wife had written, he was surprised, or rather astounded, I would say. Climbing trees, playing football in a water-logged field during a heavy downpour, hiking in the nearby hills with friends, kite-flying and sharpening the thread with manjha, exchanging comic books, sleepover at a friend’s place, waiting all week for that half-an-hour slot of Chitrahaar or the weekly movie, writing letters and cards, pen-pals… the list went on.
“No internet and computers?” was his first reaction. “No Facebook? How did you keep track of personal events, friends and yearly memories? No YouTube and Google? How did you search for information?” he asked.
He could not even fathom a world without the internet and smartphones.
But at the same time, he was fascinated by the earthy games we played and listened with rapt attention when I narrated my childhood adventures and mischiefs. “You were naughty, too?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye, exuding confidence that my escapades gave him the right to indulge in mischief.
True, our childhood memories and growing-up years have become so archaic that they now have to be pre-fixed with phrases such as ‘once upon a time’ and ‘days of yore’. The same way our parents’ childhood days graduated to the ‘those days’ category when they used to narrate their stories to us. Generation gap, as they say. The only difference is that the gap between our generation’s childhood and our parents’ is not as much as the one between my son’s and mine – in terms of tech and the way we had fun.
In fact, I believe our days may have become old, but they are not obsolete from the ‘upbringing point of view’. And this generation has a lot of lessons to learn from us.
Those were the days when that feeling of community was not restricted to festivals and special occasions. When one family buying a fridge or a TV or even new curtains gave a reason to the entire mohalla to celebrate. When one landline was enough to cater to an entire row of houses – remember the PP (private party) number? When there were no event planners and a wedding was a neighborhood affair. When one person’s troubles would be a cause of concern for the entire family or all the neighbors. When most people in town would know your father and you had to plan hard before adventures because you didn’t want to bump into Sarma uncle or Dutta aunty.
The community spirit was the highest point of our childhood. I still remember the day when my brother, who was then hardly three years old, went missing – causing a kind of upheaval in the sleepy neighborhood. It was late in the afternoon. I had sprinted out of home after lunch in a rush to join my friends for a game of football. My parents were at work. My brother started following me, demanding in whatever little vocabulary he had that he wanted to join me. I told him to go back and raced away, little realizing that he was still following me.
The gravity of the situation dawned on us when my mother arrived from the office, only to find that my brother was missing. All hell broke loose after that. But the high point of the story was the community spirit the entire campus showed. Word soon spread, so did all the neighbors in all directions. There was no social media, no TV, no internet-only determination and sincere efforts of all and the sundry to find my brother.
Late in the evening, an elderly gentleman quietly arrived at my home with my brother, handed him over to the neighbors as I peeped through the window curtain, scared as I was, and left as quietly as he had come. He noticed my brother walking in the middle of the highway, some four-five km away. Obviously realizing that the child had lost his way, he picked him up, asked around if there were reports of any missing kid and reached our house as word had got out far and wide about my brother.
Just like in old Bollywood movies, the police arrived at the scene after the climax. So did my father, who had had no clue of what had happened. My parents later tried hard to locate the gentleman to offer a word of thanks, but he just seemed to have disappeared in thin air – like some godsend angel who was on earth on a mission to save my brother.
Those were the times when every festival belonged to all, irrespective of religion. When Muslim families would light up their houses during Diwali when we were equally excited when our Muslim friends prepped up for Eid. When Christmas at school was everybody’s affair. When we would visit the school church just before writing exams. When non-Hindu friends sought Goddess Saraswati’s blessings and pitched in for Durga Puja or Holi celebrations. When such stories of amity did not make headlines because it was not breaking news but part of everyday lives.
Hiking, as I said, was one of our favorite pastimes. There was this small hillock, on which was located a huge estate full of fruit-bearing trees – mango, lithchi, imli, jackfruit and what not. Just like in the movies, the owner was a real crook of a guy – a total ‘khadoos’, who was always on guard to ward off intruders. But we were one up and raiding the alluring garden was one challenge we would always take head-on, no matter what. It was a cat-and-mouse game that, I guess, even the landlord enjoyed. This was a place where we spent much of our childhood, blending in with nature – a luxury only village kids would afford, even at that time. My son would listen amazed as I narrated how once we were all on a tree when suddenly the owner’s guards swooped in. In our haste to escape, a friend fell down and broke his arm. The result was obvious – we were all barred from going out for some time. But kids are kids and our adventures continued when the controversy died down.
Those were also the days when we used to write letters and pen pals were our form of social media. For me, it was kind of compulsory to write letters to my relatives and cousins – and to the editors (in the Letters to the editor column). Many from our times would remember the pen pal column at the end of mags such as Tinkle and foreign comics. I would show my friends with pride whenever my letters were published in Tinkle or I got mails from my pals from abroad. We would share slices of life from our respective countries, and it was the source of information too.
Television: This is one device that revolutionized our entertainment options the same way smartphones have come as a game-changer for GenNext. I still remember the year TV came to our city: 1982, during the Delhi Asian Games. A community TV was installed at a local auditorium for us all to watch the games and cheer for India. But it used to be so crowded that you had reached early or have connections to be seated at the front. From the back rows, the TV was just a speck.
After a few days, the Dutta household became the first family in the neighborhood to be a proud owner of a TV. Boy! Families after families flocked to their home to congratulate them and have a look at the newborn baby – a Dyanora black and white TV. We all marveled when, in the evenings, the rotating DD logo would slowly appear and take shape with the iconic humming tone playing in the background. The family was kind enough to station the TV in the front verandah as the neighbors would be seated in neat rows on small cane stools or on mats to watch whatever was shown. Krishi darshan, Bachchon ke leye, academic documentaries, boring discussions – in the initial days, we would consume whatever was telecast. And who can forget Chitrahaar, the unforgettable serials such as Star Trek, Giant Robot, Different Strokes, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Rajni, Hum Log, Buniyaad, Bharat Ek Khoj, Surabhi and the weekend movie slots?
Well, childhood memories are so rich that one can go on forever and forever. Every time, after listening to me, my son would always say, “Wow, Papa, you had such fun-filled days!” True, what days they were! Once upon a time!
Apart from listening to me with rapt attention, my storytelling was successful in arousing my otherwise indoor and introverted son’s interest in real outdoor activities, writing emails, doing stuff other than just watching TV, trying to sing, making new friends, playing outdoor games, reading books, get creative and take interest in traveling with us to exotic locations.
Storytelling as a parenting method works really well. I suggest every parent should take some time out of their schedule – and mobiles – and get real with their wards to make them get a feel of the real world.