First 5 years of life

The other day while walking by some Caucasian kids, I overheard one of them say, “Oh Glee is the most gay show ever!”

Television is undoubtedly the biggest source of edutainment for children until they get old enough to learn how to use the internet to find answers to anything that television might not have taught them already.

My barely 5 year old niece often leaves us flabbergasted with her worldly wise inquiries and comments. When quizzed about her source of information, she confidently says, “I learn everything from TV baba.”  Right! How stupid of me!

Makes me wonder, what was my most reliable source of information in the first five years? Definitely not TV! For our generation, growing up in the early 80s in India, television was limited to a Sunday evening Hindi movie on Doordarshan apart from Salma Sultan delivering the Hindi news and Usha Albuquerque doing the English version and some agriculture-based shows.

Also not everyone had a television and our B&W EC-TV is still etched in my mind. It came complete with a shiny sunmica plywood box with two doors that opened out, revealing the mysterious talking box inside. After you were done watching, you shut the doors and let the people inside sleep as well. All those who didn’t own a television were welcome to drop in for the Sunday evening movie. It included the bachelor friends of my dad and at time the cycle-rickshaw man who dropped us to school – Dhaniram.

This was in Lucknow, and Dhaniram was by no means dhani, yet every afternoon when dropping us kids home he would treat us to a jalebi here or a sweet paan there. Even the uncles in the neighbourhood store would automatically hand us a few free candies; Melody or a Parle Kissmi or a 5-star on a really good day.  When we moved back to Mumbai, it was disappointing that no amount of little-girl charm would get me any free candies.

Doordarshan’s usual presentation

Between 1980 & 1985, except for the Sunday movie, there wasn’t much children’s entertainment on the television, unless you consider the colorful screensaver. So I remember sitting blankly on dad’s lap and watching the evening news on Doordarshan and then finding creative ways to entertain myself; such as throwing a silly laughing fit on finding out that the Japanese PM’s name was Nakasone (roughly translated in Hindi nose-gold).

On other evenings we had our paan-chewing Bengali music teacher visit us at home when we sisters belted out songs in unison looking like identical twins born 3 years apart with matching frocks, socks, clips, hair, rhyming names and all. All the songs were gibberish in my head because I couldn’t even read.

We definitely didn’t have any flashy toys, just the hand-me-downs, dolls and cooking sets and the simple board games. I did have my eyes on two flashy toys though – one was a massive train-set and another a tall spiral sliding track with little cute penguins. (Note: I’m still willing to accept them as birthday presents.) Toys and games apart, our main source of joy were books and comics, everything possible from Amar Chrita Katha, Chacha Chaudhary, Haatimtai, Chandamama, Tinkle etc. My elder sister read more than me and that helped so that I could simply rely on her as my single biggest source of information. She was and continues to be my encyclopaedia.

With limited books and limited television, the most entertaining times were playing out in the open or enacting strange impromptu drama sequences with my sister. I was always the side-kick, but that also meant I could play many different roles in the same scene…from a sombre post-man to a hyper circus girl. We also flew kites on our terrace and sun-bathed during winters. Our grandmother didn’t particularly like us to be out of her vision, thanks to the Phoolan Devi era in Lucknow. Yes, that was the age of dakoos in the North! So funny and surreal in retrospect.

Family gatherings with cousins, uncles and aunts used to inevitably be a riot! We had a small tape recorder and everybody sang. Today when you listen to it, more than the songs it is the background noises that recreate the magic of the time. Wailing little kids, imitating them – the older kids, false starts, hearty laughter, shy women, raucous men…such fun.

Thankfully my generation (I would like to believe) had an unadulterated childhood full of real live entertainment…not just from the talking box or the computer or the iphone or the tablet.

And yet, who knows may be the new digital age is more fun for the kids than we would like to admit or know!

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