Long ago, when bedtime stories were read to little kids and Kindle did not exist, a man on a busy street brought his dream to fruition by opening what he thought was like any other toy shop. Little did he know that he would enrich several childhoods – that his enterprise would be an integral part of milestones celebrated even by the future generation!
It was a time when a rupee could buy an ice-cream cone or bhel from the school canteen and INR10,000 was quite literally a king’s ransom. This meant a family of four with typically two children and a joint household income of INR 1200 would require a great deal of saving and thrift for the simplest of birthday indulgences, that once in a year birthday present, eagerly awaited by every child. Return gifts were not fancy, leave alone the frightfully expensive, personalized ones which have spoilt and become de rigueur the present generation and usually comprised of humble pencil boxes, water bottles or breakfast boxes sans the almost unaffordable ones with Disney tags or stickers that have currently flooded the market! Translation in terms of time: the hardworking parents would laboriously compare two breakfast boxes or bottles discussing the merits at length before placing an order for an impressive number like 6 or 10, as back presents, the worry lines furrowing their forehead even further as they would exchange glances at each other – contemplating how they had stretched their budget and how they would tide over the rest of the month.
Gift wrapping being done by the shop was unheard of and gift wrapping paper would have to be bought alongwith the additional cost of gift tags and ribbons to decorate the booty that every child would take home. Plus, a modest fortune had to be spent for festoons to embellish the peeling walls and the ceiling fan!
A neighbour or relative would proudly walk in armed with the one and only camera and randomly take pictures, of the cake cutting and other treats laid out on the table – almost always the wafers and samosas and homemade sherbet. (Whither Appy, Tang? They were descendants which strutted in to capture the market much later. One in which a rupee would not be accepted even by a beggar.)
The humble toy shop with its Snake & Ladder, Ludo, Housie or Tambola, board games that were must -haves such as Scrabble, Monopoly and table tennis racquets hanging tantalisingly was a mute testament to changing times. But the digital invasion could not prevent it from making a big impact in those candle-blowing moments and it continued to maintain its stronghold by embracing change. It expanded its repertoire to the sleek technical gadgets that confine children to the home, almost converting them to minions, rather slaves to the tinkling lights of the gizmos, the same effect as being hypnotized by the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. But then, this is not a fairy tale. It’s about enhancing the quality of what we fondly recall as our ‘bachpan’.