Elephant!!”

“Shhhhhhhhhh…..it’ll hear you!”

“Shoot straight or we’re goners!”

“Bang! Bang! Bang!”

And then, “Get off me, you idiots, or I’ll call Ma!”reflection

It was way before TV, way, way before VFX effects and much before 3D films for that matter. So capable were we of creating our own special effects that we could reach the Sahara desert or the tropical forests of Africa in a wink of an eye. We couldn’t just magically transfigure our little selves into strapping and intrepid explorers, Tarzan or Batman, we could also transform tiny ants and grasshoppers into huge, bumbling elephants or man-eating tigers in seconds. And the combat tactics had to be seen to be believed.

Actually, that is what we, Gul, my cousin, the more action-oriented foil to my imaginative self, had just been doing. Having transported ourselves to Africa with the simple technique of covering all surfaces with multi-colored bed-sheets and changed our good-natured elder sister into a mad-elephant, we: two of the world’s most formidable hunters, had just fallen upon our quarry wielding our guns which we had just crafted out off some broken pencils, when didi had brought us back to earth, with that unsporting threat of calling Ma.

Ma had materialized from the kitchen, brandishing a rolling-pin and efficiently transported us back to the dining-room and transfigured us back into our four-feet high selves with a stern, “If I catch you pestering your sister again, you’ll have to read one more classic today!”
Not that we always managed to escape the dire punishment but now when I look back, I wonder where I would be if that punishment hadn’t been there? Unaware of those wonderful worlds, for sure.

Usually we respected the threat and dug out more peaceful pursuits like the much loved Lego set and were once again back to imagining ourselves to be world-class architects. And with the trusty Ludo with all its possibilities of cheating and winning or Scrabble or the self-designed games on old-notebook sheets, I don’t remember ever being short of options. If all else failed, there were doting grandparents- our story-on-demand resources. From Lord Krishna’s escapades to Feluda’s adventures to Tintin, the world, it seemed, was ours for asking.

“Bored” didn’t quite figure in our dictionaries, neither did Lol or RotFl or awesome! When we did find something awesome I guess we physically did laugh out loud and sometimes actually roll on the floor, tears of laughter streaming from our eyes.

Kids today wonder, even pity that we spent the long days of summers without TV and worse, without cell-phones and (with an “Oh Lord!” look) FaceBook. But looking back, what an advantage it had been to be thus disadvantaged! What a blessing it was to have our own imagination and the ability to create our own worlds! How lovely it was to write a long, gossipy letter, then peek into the letter-box hopefully everyday and then one day receiving an equally warm reply in spidery handwriting overflowing to the folding margins—who cares that we didn’t have cell-phones to communicate! Who needed them?

I come across kids these days who haven’t known what vacations are truly meant to be —long chats around the dining table, picnics with cousins or just long leisurely summers doing nothing. Submerged as they are in holiday-homework and prepping to top the next class by stuffing as many coaching-classes and extra-curricular activities as possible in a day, have they ever read for pleasure?

Very recently I got a “are you mad” look from a friend when I suggested she let her wan-looking son drop one of his many classes this summer, “No, no, what are you saying, our age was different. Theirs is the age of competition, they have to know everything.”
I wonder why our not knowing much still sounds better than knowing everything today?

Madhumita Gupta, from Alwar, India, is a teacher by default and a writer by choice. A reluctant Facebook inhabitant, she spends her time teaching and dreaming up the next Great Indian Novel, which will be more humor, less grime.

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