Growing Up with Handcrafted Toys

As a child you believe that what you do, the games you play, the friends you keep, and the toys you play with are the norm for children everywhere. As you grow older you meet diverse people, travel to different cities and countries, and really get to know people from all walks of life does it strike you that your childhood was different? 

It never struck me as odd when my cousins and I played with wooden utensils, brass toys, Kandapali wooden figurines, clay toys, papier-mâché animals, or lacquered toys with mini utensils that came in handwoven palm leaf baskets all the way from Varanasi. Just listing out these toys brings back a wealth of memories. We were surrounded and completely immersed in the diversity and richness of Indian heritage before we could even fathom what that meant. 

According to my mother, we were the Vaanar Sena, an army of monkeys. A literal jing bang of energetic children that were proud to be compared to a ragtag group of cavorting jungle monkeys.

We were thick as thieves and used to come up with the most innovative ways to pass the time. My personal favourite was when we would play elaborate games and involve our myriad toys. The scenarios were complex and bewildering which meant we often lost track of what we were trying to do. 

We had a mighty army of brass horses and elephants (on wheels). These dokra animals were our faithful companions and were the army of our magical funtoosh kingdom. Some of them were even large enough that we could sit on them. The chieftain was always given the honour of riding this magnificent steed. Luckily we all took turns playing the role of chieftain, the proud leader of hundreds of villages, as children our math took us only as far as hundreds. 

The royal equine was actually quite a splendid creature that heroically transported the chieftain hither and thither. He had a few trick features, the beautifully casted ears came out of their sockets as did his luscious tail. This was perfect for epic fight scenes. The grand nature of our fight scenes and the sheer melodrama would have put any Bollywood fight director to shame!

Looking back I am able to see that our joy and happiness didn’t come just from the games or the toys. It was because we were surrounded by abundance, it was just our natural state of being. We were never bored and we never found any faults. 

As Paulo Coelho wisely said, "a child can teach an adult three things…to be happy for no reason at all…to always be busy with something and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires".

Maybe it’s time I return to my grassroots, what say you my ragtag army and my trusted steed? Will you join me?

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