The other day I was sad to hear that one of the best known toy companies of the world had shut up shop. Apparently business just wasn’t good enough for them to continue.
When I was a child growing up in what was then called Calcutta, the most heavenly place on earth for me was Paragon, on Park Street.
Paragon was Calcutta’s biggest, and best toy shop. It had everything that a little boy – or a little girl – could wish for, and more.
It even had a child-size tent which you could put up in the living room at home and make yourself a daring explorer in the heart of a far-off jungle prowled by deadly animals.
Childhood was all this, and a myriad other toys, and what you made of them. Or what they made of you, as you use your imagination to devise new roles for you to play by using them; you could be the pilot of a fighter plane whizzing a tiny hand-held jet through the air; a doctor complete with toy stethoscope; a detective with magnifying glass, pistol and handcuffs with which to arrest the baddie.
But now it seems that childhood is no more about such toys, which appear to have become as obsolete as Lego building blocks, or the hula hoop, whatever they were.
So if they don’t have toys, don’t kids play anymore? They do, but it’s a different sort of playing altogether, one which requires very little or no imagination at all.
Kids today play electronic video games – generally of an extremely violent nature which involve blowing up your opponents before they can blow you up – which are programmed according to a set scenario. You don’t have to create a make-believe world for yourself; it’s already created for you.
I’m told these video games are very addictive and kids get hooked on them, the way they do on fast foods and sugary soft drinks.
But like fast foods which don’t provide much nourishment for the body, video games don’t provide much nourishment for the mind to play at make-believe, and create new worlds for itself, which is part and parcel of the process we call growing up.
Childhood? I’m afraid the game’s up for that, quite literally.
(The writer is a former associate editor with the ToI. [Courtesy –ToI].)