Of Paperboats and Plastic Dolls



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I remember a girl in a pink frock, standing at her portico, struggling to stretch her tiny fingers, with her innocent gaze fixed at the drops of chilled rain, stored in the cups of pink tiles, falling down one by one. She would count them, try to catch them all and feel like a princess, having decorated her left hand with graffiti of diamonds made of water drops.

A bunch of kids in the park below - like a sprinkle of colour on green grass - call out her name and beckon her to bring along the raw material for the most priceless toy of the rainy season –boats. She suddenly forgets how beautiful her drawing of drops is, pulls her hands off the balcony railing and rushes to her dad’s room, where on the top of a rack is piled a bundle of pink newspapers – the cemetery of news stories born a couple of years ago. The lifeless papers are to be made alive again when she would make boats out of them and float them in very very tiny rivulets flowing between two rows of marigolds. Her boat wouldn’t be alone, it will have to compete with dozens of similar boats and there are all kinds of risks – the boats could collide, they could leak and melt away, or simply deform and sink in the slightly muddy streams. Yet the true expressions of delight, fear, sorrow, anger or anxiety that used to form and evaporate away on her very cute face within little intervals of time are far more, full of life than the constant serious face that she will have to ‘manufacture’, when she grows up.

Her life is so perfect. Extreme happiness within little moments, a flood of tears at the mere sound of a No; a sea of dreams and a queue of questions, a safari of paperboats and Pa’s camel-hump; a social life of plastic dolls and paunchy teddy bears; a day full of homework and yet no deadlines; an evening tired of I-spy and hide and seek, a night full of stories and sleep soaked in fairies.

How divinely different does this life look from the one at a distance of more than two decades?

The rains are now just a disease-friendly season you should avoid getting drenched in. And newspapers are no more wasted in making paperboats. They read out loud why Italy is on its way down a deep debt crisis and how Greece can save itself from the hard fall. They tell you why you should drop the plan of getting your own villa in Delhi as home loan rates have soared again and they also tell why you must fear when out on Delhi roads, and why you must not try to be a good Samaritan if someone shrieks out to you for help, how Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes were shot dead while trying to resist eve teasers.

There is another reason why the old newspapers don’t end up as paperboats. The poor bundles are not noticed by kids anymore, because, the tiny trots are busy learning how to be highly techno-savvy in this new high-tech age. Either they are busy racing their cars on screens in various computer games or watching and copying the moves of Ra.One’s you can be my chhammak chhallo and reciting the lyrics of baarah maheene me baarah tareeke se from Bodyguard. Those in a slightly older age group, find it so déclassé not to be on Facebook.

The teddy bears – of ‘Archies only’ - come in use when the deadline weary corporate souls have lost all creative ideas on what to gift someone so close on their so very special day. And the plastic dolls are no more to be found just inside children’s bedrooms; look around, you will find so many with plastic smiles, measured accurately on the beam balance of the so-called-professionalism. An angry child’s face is likely to make you feel much more alive than a meaningless grown-up smile.

Childhood is somehow getting shot, right in the heart, bullet by bullet. And it’s not just we the grown-ups who walk with a corpse of our good old days, but the real sufferers are the gen next who will perhaps never realize how it felt to run and hide along with the squirrels, to talk with the plastic yet alive dolls, to pluck a guava straight from the orchard, to chase peacocks and rabbits around the lush green bushes and to feel and touch and live so close to nature.

As we march ahead in our lives, getting busier with each foot forward, and more cautious with each foot backward, we tend to prescribe for ourselves a set of etiquettes, rather say, a code of expressions and behaviours, to be more specific, we manufacture masks. A smiling one for the morning hi – as short lived as the impact of an unnoticed tremor, a sober one for the remaining day – like a statue built to adorn the premises, and a stern one reserved for those below in hierarchy so that you are not taken for granted.

Some would look down upon you for having laughed your heart out, even at a much needed occasion, just because it does not exist in the dictionary of office decorum. Curbing the natural freedoms of expression, such places kill you in installments, ultimately turning you in what one of my friends says, walking zombies.

This is also what separates the so-called-grown-ups from children, who talk, smile, laugh and cry as and when they want to. They let their emotions flow as the nature wants it. Their minds are uncluttered. They are free. This also explains why a child’s brain is so receptive and they grasp the facts so quickly, their minds are brimming with a unique creative curiosity. Any creative person can’t afford to shed the childhood fabric that binds his soul, because the moment he does he would cease to be creative.

Life is short, but it’s of course bigger than the petite thoughts engaging the little space inside our brains and it’s high time we started ‘unlearning’ things to reawaken the child within us and live an unchained life.

Let this Children’s Day be a resurrection day for all those of us taking ourselves too seriously, and in the process burying alive the traces of childhood left within.

Let this November, the warmth of our child-like hearts melt away the frozen ‘plastic dolls’ that we have morphed ourselves into, because, life is a ‘paperboat’. It will dissolve before we realize.

Happy Children’s Day!