Sunday, 29 September 2013

The childhood that they never had.

A few weeks ago, I was shown a Micromax Android phone by my uncle. The screen had developed lot of cracks and he told me that it was time that he got a new phone. "See, this is the reason that I got this phone for 4K. Cheap, serves the purpose and it lasted long in harsh conditions!", he explained. What he had actually meant regarding the "harsh conditions" was that his kids playing games on the phone.

The only game that I knew when I was a kid was Cricket, at least till I was 10 years old. I had loads of friends back at New Delhi, with their ages ranging from three to twenty. The only thing that we all had in common was to play in the hot summer sun. Even now, I associate the word "game" with an outdoor game, than the digital one. I never took any extra classes on weekends, or had a tight schedule unlike the kids of today. We had a TV with cable connection, but I hardly remember watching cartoons. Nor there were any special channels for kids' programmes, other than Cartoon Network. Mario and Dave were almost the only two games I had ever played on a console or on the computer. Childhood was fun indeed.

I always feel cursed to be born and lived all my childhood in metro cities. There was hardly any place to play, and I was witness to every piece of empty land and playground around me being converted into high rise apartments. I studied in schools that continually discouraged sports. The standard of education was great, but there was hardly a playground to play. Yet, it was fun to hunt for empty plots and small pieces of land within my area along with friends just for the love of cricket. It was fun to break windows by hitting sixers too. I really loved the part that came next, being scolded by angry Mamas and Mamis for playing there.

I see my uncle's kids who live downstairs every day go out to play at my neighbour's house, just opposite to ours. Theirs is an apartment, with little space on the ground floor where some ten kids play every day. When I feel that I was myself cursed to be brought up in metros, the childhood of these kids seems even more miserable. "Android" was one of the first words that was uttered by my young cousin Sriram. He is five years old and easily beats me in a game of Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. He knows to play every single game that I've downloaded for him on the phone. When my uncle and aunt see this, they feel proud that their young son is capable of using a mobile phone so well at such a young age. Well, I have other opinions.

The only pastime that the kids of today have is the television. Ben 10, Jackie Chan, among others, keep them engaged, while in the outside world, each and every corner of the city is being commercialised. I hardly see anyone carry a cricket bat or a football in their hand these days to play. I must be kidding. If there no playground, where would they be carrying the bat and ball to play?

I used to play so hard every day, that I used to come home hungry and tired. I never cared what was for lunch or dinner and all I knew is that I ate it completely and as fast as possible, so that I could get ready for the next session of play. These days, the kids demand the food that they like, and want the television to be switched on for them to eat their meal. The hot afternoon summer sun, cool wind blowing on the face in the evenings, star gazing with friends in the night - all this is something they will never experience. I had a lot of neighbours who spoke various languages like Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi. I learnt a bit of everything as a kid, and used to spend more time at my neighbours' than at my house. Well now, I hardly know who my neighbours are. The person who lives next door is Mr. Mali, an actor in many Tamil TV serials and movies. I saw him this morning and waved at him. The last time I saw him or any of my other neighbours was around two months back, I think.

About twelve years ago, the Shanti Colony road was adorned with lush green trees on both sides and there were hardly any shops on the road. I used to go cycling every morning and there were hardly any vehicles on the road. But now, it takes more than ten minutes to cross the road. Buses that must ply on the main roads have taken over this avenue road and individual houses are now being rebuilt into high rise apartments with shops on the ground floor.

While my neighbourhood is being encroached upon by luxury apartments, there are still people who want to go out and play. At Zoho, we have a couple of badminton courts and a dedicated play area for table tennis. When I joined here, we had a freshers meet with our CEO, Sridhar Vembu. We had a Q&A session with him, when someone asked, "Why are we building a facility at Tenkasi? And why are we planning to move some of our workforce there?". He smiled and replied, "If you suddenly want to go out to play cricket or any other sport, where would you go here?". And then, there was silence in the hall for about two minutes.


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