Play

Tape Recorder times

Our world of toys has a new energy and long hours: Lego bricks. What they transform to from being an empty assortment of grooves, protrusions, wires and protrusions is beyond fantastic. There is a logical reason for this new found passion. But that for another time.

For now, recounting an evening with the little miss.

That evening we were building a tape recorder. Me, the little miss and a silly heap of bricks. It seemed like an easy project to finish before dinner.  But it turned out otherwise. It took us a few sittings.  We would build and stare at what’s emerging and shake our heads. Half in disgrace of what was emerging and the other half in disquiet.

Midway through I wondered why it took such a long time. To my mind, we had cracked far more complex contraptions with far less effort. Most times with a hurried yank, a precise stare and an impromptu smile. This time, we had furrowed brows and murky frowns. We weren’t getting anywhere for a long time. We were done finally with a dash of colour at the top.  It was almost like we had climbed an impossible mountain.

Why did it take us so long? In hindsight, the answer was staring at my face from the time that we set out to build.  The answer was clearly on her face. (And I could see it only when I replayed it in my memory). For a confused stare had descended upon her when we chose to build a tape recorder. It became apparent to me later, that the tape recorder was a fancy science fiction gadget, that she had never ever experienced.

The closest she had come to experiencing one was to see it at her grandma’s place. One that still manages to spout songs from the radio but the cassette deck refuses to open.

The magic of the cassette deck opening, the ‘clunk’ of the loading and the physical pressure that would take to switch on the play button to get deft songs playing out of defined speakers were an integral part of my growing up years. Not to forget the twaddle of wires that we had to roll out if ever we wanted to set up speakers in another room.  These of course are as ancient as the  Pharaohs of the Nile to her modern day mind that is more used to deft devices and intangible play. When much of music is in the air and music streams in like monsoon rain from unseen clouds, the world has indeed moved on.

The next day evening, she had a few questions for me and we sat down to talk a bit about my ‘tape recorder times’! Of how it was in the ‘good old days’. And for everything that I explained to her, I had to give her a modern day equivalent for her to connect to. Native toys and some of the games we used to play and the people we played with. Of my schools. Of my friends. Of my brother. Of my dad. Of my mom.

The moment we came to my mom, she jumped, ‘Ah that’s my paati (grandma)’. ‘You just called her your mom’. And for some reason, her eyes filled even as a nervous laughter leapt through the evening rain. I don’t know why my eyes filled to the brim in great speed too.

To think that the absent tape recorder caused this memory shower threw a sigh into the air. As the rain pelted its singular rhythm on the window,  I reached out for a hot coffee, humming ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

A peek into the future

“How about taking your daughter to KidZania and having a good time?”, the good folks at Blogadda asked.  Now, several friends had spoken about the place as a vibrant vivacious fun place for kids. God bless their good souls. If anyone gives me an opportunity to try and bring a smile to the little miss, well they grab a piece of my heart. ‘Yes’, I said and they arranged it all. Seeking to experience the place first hand and see what the world was coming to.

Some search later, the facts seemed to hold promise. To say the least. A Mexican entrepreneur Xavier Lopez Ancona ( & a former managing director of a Private Equity business with GE) wove this idea from nothing and its mushrooming into a sought after, profitable global franchise held allure. Currently, the only Indian franchise is the one at Mumbai’s R City Mall at Ghatkopar. The perpetual dusk setting within, the sculpted roads & stores, the services are all supposed to be similar in every franchise around the world to exacting detail. Including the fuselage of a plane that juts out of the building!

The place is a city in itself. With immigration counters and stamping etc to enter. The immigration folks being cheerful and helpful was a dead give away that this after all is a make believe world that we were entering. Everything else is real. In fact, a tad too eerily real. Real clean sculpted pavements, real products and services that go out on a limb to recreate life as it exists outside, with a charter and a bill a of rights drawn up by children. Suave marketing, methinks, but its a story well told.

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From health services, fire service ( the sirens of the ambulance and a fire engine that do the rounds at a periodic interval can capture attention with a snap of a finger), their own supermarket, a cop station, a radio station, replicas of factories that make stuff from soft drink to cereals etc etc, the place packs a punch. Plus of course, to complete the milieu, KidZania has its own ‘currency’ and a bank (with adult tellers) to boot. A ‘fully functional economy’ of sorts!

Speaking of the economy, the place reeks of real life brands, which must vary from country to country and speaks of hardcore commerce. For example, when the kids play courier delivery folks, they work for DHL. Radio City when they work as a Radio Jockey. Hyundai for the cars. Camlin. Coca Cola, Nerolac. Yes Bank. etc etc. They are all there. Soaking up the kids and their attention. Consumerist reality is everyday reality for all ofus in the real world and that is an unmistakable part of the business model of KidZania

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The idea is simple. Kids from the age of 4 to 14 choose to do various jobs ( from being firemen, dabbawallas, doctors on call etc are paid in Kidzos the local currency, and then dispense it on artistic pursuits like drawing greeting cards, pottery lessons, or simply spending it on food and fun.  Or they can save up the money, deposit in the bank within and use it again in the next visit. Its quite a load of fun for the children. For they get to play multiple roles and for parents get to have a voyeuristic peep into the future. The little miss enjoyed playing a fireman, and going about the fire engine with its loud bells and screaming sirens. She played doctor. And then a super market assistant. She would come back with a wad of currency from each of these places and dutifully hand it over to the missus.

Me and the missus walked about soaking up the place.

We watched kids run around as courier delivery folks. They queued up to clean tall buildings. To paint walls. Of course it was part of play. Never since Tom Sawyer was there this enthusiasm in painting, I must say! There are adult instructors for each activity, who hold court handing over the necessary costume and setting up the boundary conditions and instructions for the kids to play their part. An education, it surely provides kids with with.  One way of adding perspective is to soak into different jobs. To empathise with people is to ‘step into someone else s shoe’, as the cliched expression goes. Kids get to be adults and play different roles. Each activity lasts approximately 20 minutes and no kid I could see had a shortage of excitement there.

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Play is an integral part of learning. Especially so in children. The little miss had such a whale of a time doing all that she got to do. She told us after successfully ‘putting out a fire’, that fire can be ‘dangerous’, with a roll of her eyes. The setting for some tremendous learning to happen is endearing and complete.

On second thoughts, it is near complete.

It is near complete for it is a replication of adult real life as it stands today, it comes a tad too close in making a linear extension of the present day life into the future and overlaying a materialistic mindset on impressionable minds.  That’s at least the feeling I was left with all through. Particularly so, when a tall kid who was playing the role of a courier boy brushed past us, pushing his trolley in infinite hurry. He turned for a minute to give us another look and then went his way with his darting lunges as his Kidzo notes awaited him. In the fully functional economy of KidZania, kids could learn more about adult life than perhaps adults themselves would care to acknowledge. Running around to ‘make money’ and then ‘spend’ it on ‘artistically creating greeting cards’, ‘Pottery lessons’ etc is part of our story. Now, that’s why it struck me as a linear extension of the present into the future.

It is a scary future, where money will continue to have currency over our thoughts and ‘finding meaning’ in life is a distant and dead thought. Perhaps it is a practical and the most likely future as well. The hours at KidZania prepares kids for this kind of a future. Helping them experience reality in safe circumstances, teaching them options and choices for a material world. On how it perhaps would be and what all they would need to do to get ahead. Parents who have this as the most secure future for their children, will simply adore the place.

For those of you parents who imagine a different future, where a life of purpose and meaning without a wad of currency notes dictating what our kids should end up doing, KidZania is quite an experience. For the parents that is. Atleast, it was for me. For it gives a well calibrated peak into the future and nudged me to seek and exercise the right choices now, for an alternate narrative to take root in the little miss’s mind. Possibilities abound. The changing nature of creative work, the fundamental changes that technology has brought to us, the importance of conversation, relating to one another and building relationships, the joy and curiosity in discovery. A heap of such things struck me as possible. Building these into the little miss’s choice set and creating a base of enduring interest there, is work cut out for me.  In the times we live in, its not child’s play.

At KidZania, you could retire to the luxurious parents lounge there(sponsored by Urban Ladder) , (where the kids aren’t allowed) or plough into some cheese Pizza and masticate these thoughts. For you have the time. The staff at the place are friendly to a fault and have an endearing demenour that helps kids gravitate to them like iron fillings to a magnet, leaving you with nothing much to do. Unless of course, you would want to capture every inch of your kid’s experience, every smile, wince, whine, laugh on every possible device – mobile phones, digital cameras, tablets and the like. If you belong to the latter category, you can run behind the fire engine and chase the ambulance like Paparazzi, clicking pictures and recording videos of kids, getting to be adults. To an uncharitable eye it can appear to be an elaborate fancy dress pageant with some high tech props in tow, but to some parents it is a priceless experience.

The entry fee is steep but perhaps it is worth the experience. It is a good place to check out. It sure will get your kid excited (especially so, if he/she has a friend along) and by natural consequence, get you smiling. If you are someone like me, it perhaps will get you to think hard about how incomplete the loud voices for leaving a good planet behind for our children are.  A pretty planet is pointless, if we don’t work the right perspectives into kids who will inherit it.

Play

I played.  I mean, I played too.  You could announce that with the choicest of drum roll! It was delicate nudging and them some conversations that got me. 


FUTSAL



I had no idea of what in the world FUTSAL meant.  “A much shorter version of football, with none of the silly rules that football has, like off-side, etc.” was an explanation that was neat.  In an age where you dont take a walk without looking up the weather on the web, I promptly searched the net to find more. The details  there  pretty much spoke the same stuff.  

An enthusiastic do-gooder added, “It’s just a very small playing area plus there is a net on top. So, no aerial shots beyond a point”. That seemed even better.  “The ball is never out. As there are nets all over”. He meant, “if I could do it, so could you”. Have you heard of that innocent line from an accomplished Matador that tipped over an innocent bystander into the bull fight ring? If you didnt, well you just did not. 

As a master strokes someone who I wont name, sent me this video
This Futsal thing looked so easy that a ‘Thats all?’ that my lips spewed into the air.
Perfect. I thought. I showed up. 

Little did I realise that the game can tire you out in ten minutes. Little did I realise that the football that you see on TV, lazing around with a bowl of Popcorn and swinging the TV remote like a Japanese Samurai waiting to switch to a soap if the match got ‘boring’ required a very different kind of energy. 

In seven minutes I was panting like a dog. If you weren’t any good at passing the ball quickly, you better sat out. Luckily the chaps, good friends they are and God must definitely bless their good souls, humoured me all along and I played for a good time.  

Realisation dawned that many years of being a corporate wage earner and being part of a variety of ‘passing the buck’ games hadn’t prepared me for this Futsal thing! Of course, I must be quick to point out the difference between ‘a buck’ and ‘a ball’

But play teaches you several things. Like, how easy it is to underestimate challenge. How simple it seems from outside.  How silly you look when attempting something that you thought were skills that you came into the world with. Of course, how intense the game can get, bringing out the best and worst in people! And how ten minutes of what seems to be aimless running around can have you pooped and drained. 

Minutes after we finished, the kids took the pitch. Whatay delight it was to watch them play with awesome élan and control. 

I was refreshed. I was tired. I had aches in parts of the body that I never knew existed. And then I did a mistake that old men like me should never do:  Replay images of the kids playing, in the mind!  For it makes an old man feel much older.  

Beads of sweat showed up. All over again. I am getting old. But the time to play is now. 
As it always has been.  

Twiddling Thumbs

She has a basket full of toys. Dolls. Lego blocks. Trinkets.  Press-Me-I-Make-Noise stuff. Windup toys. Etc. Some of them are broken. Some of them have been used many times over. Some trampled and deformed permanently.  Yet others, preferred. But all of them share the single basket. 
 
Like today, we often guide her to the basket to interest her to play. She takes to them for a brief while. Plays with a few. Tosses away a few. Largely leaves the majority alone. And then, perches at the vantage point of her most favourite toy.  
I mean, she climbs onto my shoulder. 
 
‘COMMM’ she says. 
 
‘Come’.  It means. It is said so very nicely. 
 
Her ‘Come’ (pronounced as COMMM) roughly translates to “start walking”. “Crawling”. Whatever.  It means, as they say in English movies, ‘MOVE’! It doesn’t matter what I am doing. Working on the laptop. Cleaning shoes.  Reading a book. Having food. 
 
If she says, ‘Come’, I bloody well drop everything else and move. I am only more than happy to do that. That however is beside the point. 
 
Sometimes we step out for a walk & carry session. She looks into the sky and beckons the Sun, and the moon and waves at the stars. At other times we roll on the grass or she slides down with a zing or just about manages to balance on the swing.    
 
When you drive around town or walk the Powai promenade, if at all you spot a bulging balding man, fill his cheeks with air or walk on all fours and carry a young cute toddler on his shoulders across the streets, stop and say hello. It could well be me.  
 
At other times, when work saps my sinews silly or if it is an odd hour of the day, we stay home. Doing similarly exciting and exacting stuff!  The unsaid expectation is for me to come up with games that will occupy an ever so energetic mind.  
 
Her most favourite game however is devoid of any crazy showmanship. It has the following procedures.
•Stick the left thumb up. 
•Take a pen and with four markings, make a face. 
•Do the same to the outstretched thumb of hers.
•She looks at my thumb and calls her name out. I look at her thumb and call my name out. So in a quick jiffy, her thumb transforms to ‘Papa’ and my thumb morphs to ‘Baby’!  
 
The thumbs dance. They kiss. They chase. They tumble. They hold each other well. That is the game. In-between insane cackles and hysterical laughter that you could only think laughing gas had the power to produce. 
 
I call it Twiddle Thumbs. 
 
Yes. That’s that. That is the game.  I am astounded beyond belief at a new mind operates and is easily excited by such a simple thing.  But that’s the way it is and it does rather well too. 
 
The other day, we stay up late. Sitting and chatting. Me & the missus. The daughter is fast asleep. We look into the moon and the stars that she was beckoning some time back.  It’s rare that we get to chat up at all these days. 
 
“What do you think we will leave behind for her?” asks the missus. This is like a scud missile that came from nowhere. 
 
The coffee that I am sipping sputters out of my lips as I laugh. ‘You mean, something like a legacy?’, I ask. I haven’t thought about it. I have been engrossed in the joy of the present, that the future seems beyond outer space.  Perpetually arraigned to the wilderness that is beyond imagination, requiring a laborious labyrinth of years to get there.  
 
The reality of the years just swishing by quickly often strike me hard. Not thinking about the future is my way of dealing with it. 
 
There is a slight tension in the air. After the missus has popped the legacy question. I think humour will defuse it. ‘I have nothing to declare I say. Except my writing’. I say.  Remembering the famous Oscar Wilde remark to a customs official:  ‘There is nothing for me to declare except my genius’ 
 
The missus jumps on it. “Writing?” She asks.   Muted in the intonation of that singe word questions is this: “You-write-a-clutch-of- incoherent-blogs-not-Nobel-Prize-winning-epistles”.  
 
Silence moves from a punctuation mark to become the mainstay of the conversation.  “I don’t know”. I say. 
 
Frankly I don’t. I nurture no desires of chasing pots of gold, packets of money and the ominous luxuries that the world offers. My desire revolves around the daughter learning to choose well when the choices present themselves every moment in life. If that happens, I would be a happy man. But ‘legacy’ I would leave her with, I haven’t the faintest clue. 
 
I sip the last remains of the filter coffee.  
 
“I don’t know what I’ll leave behind for her”, I begin. “But I can tell you, if at all I get to old age I hope to clutch with dear life a ton of memories. Of spending time with her. Of being present. And of course playing Twiddle Thumbs endlessly”. 
 
The missus laughs. She thinks it’s a good answer.  I am all chuffed.  It’s not often that my answers pass muster as ‘reasonable’ with her. But beyond that, the answer seems to have answered some other unasked questions in my own mind as well. 
 
In sometime we hit bed. 
 
I realise that today, me and the daughter have played Twiddle Thumbs for an incredibly long period of time. And she sleeps like a log. I watch her sleep. It is then that the missus spots it: She is holding her playing thumb with her other palm. Almost as if caressing a baby.  
 
The eyes that I drew on her thumb stick out and stare at me.  And from the safety of her palm, those eyes seem to implore me to leave behind nothing but a bounty of memories. 
My thumb twitches. I am barely conscious as my thumb kisser her thumb 
 
There is peace in the world. 
 
This is a replug from my post for Parentous.com