A few days ago, I found a phone number that I had lost for a while. I called up Babu, my best Friend from Childhood. This post is like Childhood Revisited for me. Babu was a few years older than me and source of all my knowledge when it came to toys and games. In the 70’s, we did not have much television programing or PS3. The advent of hand held LCD games were a few more years away.
School time was extremely busy and we hardly got any time to play. However, we had summer vacations between grades. These vacations used to last a month. Teachers used to load us with homework but we always either finished the home work up front or did it in the last few days of the vacation. This meant we had a lot of time and nothing much to do. Indian summers are wonderful, sunny, hot and without any rains. We used to invent our own toys and games. There was a small store nearby that stocked up on interesting toys made by the local cottage industry. When we tired of playing Cricket, or riding our hired bicycle, we would turn to these toys.
The first one I recollect is a flying propeller made by cutting a thin sheet of metal in the shape of a propeller with a slit in the centre. These propeller were sold by the dozen along with a twisted metal strip with a movable sleeve. The idea was to take a propeller and put the metal strip through the slit and let the propeller twirl its way down the twisted strip to rest on the sleeve. Then you carefully hold the contraption away from your body and push the sleeve up as fast as possible. This gives torque to the propeller and launches it off the strip. If you wanted the propeller to go high, you twisted the wings more. For a level flight, keep the twist to the minimum. This toy was called “Bhingri” in the local dialect. Pronounced as “Bh – ing – ree“.
Another toy was the kite. The Indian kites are designed to fly even in low velocity winds. As we grew up, we learned how to select the kites. For example, the central spine had to be bendable but the top spine should not be much thinner than the central spine.
Experience taught us how to correct imbalance flaws in kites to make them fly steady. The ultimate solution being a long tail to keep the kite steady. Older boys would teach the younger ones how to string the kite for various flying missions. You would string the kite with a particular measurement if you wanted to have a kite war. You would string it differently if you just wanted to enjoy a long peaceful flight.
Then there was the top. Another fine product of the cottage industry. They came in
different sizes and shapes. Learning to spin a top using the supplied string is an art. As we became experts, we learned how to get the top to spin in the palm of our hands. There were competitive game formats with tops but it is difficult to explain those concepts in a brief post. We learned how to select a top by looking at the bottom nail to make sure it was straight. Checking the balance of the top to check if it would spin in a stable manner.
Many a summer, Babu and I spent playing these and other games. Our dreams and aspirations were firmly focused on trying to do our best in these games. Later in the evenings we would sit with other friends and reminisce about our great accomplishments during the day. Accomplishments such as how many kite wars we won or how many opponents tops we destroyed. Those were simper days. No worry about anything, let alone retirement or pensions. It was nice to talk to Babu again. He has two grown up daughters and is neck deep in work and family responsibility. If I Could Turn Back Time, we would go back to our childhood in a heartbeat!