People like me who are in their early forties are likely to have been a part of the last generation of urban children who saw sparrows chasing each other on balcony railings. Our childhood lyrics included a whole number-game for the mynahs that hopped onto our window-sills: ‘one for sorrow, two for joy, three for girl, four for boy...’ When peacocks spread out their glorious plumes in the grounds opposite our homes, we called out excitedly so that our play-mates wouldn’t miss the sight of a life-time. We laughed at the baleful glare of crows perched on our clothesline and mimicked the hooting of owls in the trees outside our homes. Today we take pictures on our cell-phone cameras and post them on Facebook for other colour-starved netizens to ‘Like’.
Mine is certainly the last generation that recognised the tamarind tree as the bearer of deliciously tangy fruit and the home of some very interesting ghosts. Mimosa pudica, or touch-me-not, the delicate plant that figures in the botany chapters of CBSE textbooks, grew wild outside our homes. We ooh-ed and aah-ed over the sensitive petals as they folded around our fingertips. For once, the textbooks were right, we concluded.
Mine may also have been the last generation of children whose parents gave away old clothes to itinerant salesmen in exchange for shiny new steel utensils. We saw them haggle good-naturedly and give in gracefully when the salesman indicated his final price — but not before mentioning that this kind of cheating would get him nowhere in life. Our mothers bought vegetables from friendly neighbourhood kiosks where they were greeted with a ready smile and cheated of their hard-earned money as they went about choosing succulent tomatoes or fresh spinach. The clever green-grocers kept them engaged in conversation while adding mysterious devices to their clanging weighing scales — daylight robbery was the right word for it.
Our children are unlikely to know of games like nagolchu, thappo, aankh-micholi, gilli-danda, pagathiya or chor-pulees. Well, they might, if someone starts a Facebook group called, ‘Save our Dying Games’ and all of us joined it out of nostalgic solidarity. We may be the last generation of city-dwellers who grew up playing in the mud outside our homes with colourful marbles.
Our grandchildren are likely to be in thick, stuffed diapers throughout the day because they will be jetsetters born to other jetsetters with a lifestyle to match. Who has the time to tie triangular cloth nappies onto baby bottoms and change them a dozen times a day?
It is important to be in step with the rapidly modernising world, but our garbage bin seems to be overflowing with some very nice collectibles indeed. It may be time to bring some of those good things back, if only as vintage classics.