I felt the blood rush to my head as the pendulum ride swung me up towards the sky exhibiting a water-color imagery of blue skies and distant, gray mountains. Within a split second, tricked by gravity, I came down with even greater speed and sighted a contrasting imagery, one filled with people, shops, rides, and colorful lights. The combined chaotic sounds of merriment enhanced and faded as I neared the ground and swung back up.
I was at a village horse fair in Anthiyur (a village in Erode district); a mini Disneyland temporarily set up with the primary motive to sell horses and goats. People from surrounding villages never missed attending the fair because it was one of their limited entertainment options since the Tipu Sultan’s period. An annual event held in August, it was an important part of my father’s childhood. He always recollected the fair with much happiness and described it as an anticipated event where high-bred, majestic horses were brought for serious business, all at the same time the colorfully decorated horses danced to the rhythm of popular movie songs and amused an elated crowd.
“My parents, I and my brothers would come prepared for an entire day of fun and shopping with packed lunch. My mother would buy us freshly roasted corns, and I would pack homemade barfis to eat them later.” my father said. He spoke as a matter of fact, and there was an enviable simplicity in the factors that governed his happiness. In those days, life was cherished with neither a rush nor competition. The same nature-oriented, simple living finds reflection in my father’s many choices today. At times when prodded, he attributes his perspectives and priorities to his childhood. He had played in glorious orchards, cycled many kilometers to attend school, relished meals prepared from vegetables grown organically in their own backyard, walked miles to fetch water, and did his part in festivals that gave a shared purpose for communities – all of this had sculpted his views on family, wealth, nature, and life overall.
Attending the horse fair gave me a chance to live my father’s childhood briefly and reminded me of my own.
I was brought up in a city. For the most part, we lived in a flat that was part of a multi-storied building. I studied in an English medium school and attended birthday parties of my classmates. There was always someone around to assist me with my homework. Family outing to restaurants on weekends gave me exposure to other cuisines. I enjoyed dance and Karate classes. Watching cartoon channel was my favorite after-school pastime. I went on expensive but necessary school-organized tours and industrial visits. Books in big, private libraries shed light on the unknown and ingrained the wondrous joy of reading. Life was good, and those were the best days of my life.
My father and I grew up in different periods under different circumstances in different places. It would be absurd to argue one way of growing up is better than the other. His childhood prepared him best for his future, and my childhood prepared me best for my future. But, I also can’t stop wondering about the alternate childhood I might have had: To play, what if I had expansive farmlands rather than designated parks? To learn swimming, what if I were pushed into a well with dried bottle gourd tied to my back? If I had eaten food made from locally grown veggies and pulses, would my preference to food be any different? What if I had no option but to tend to my things? What if I had limited distractions by technology and more time with nature? What if I had stolen mangoes, climbed trees, swam in ponds, gone fishing, and other endless things that were possible in the countryside? Would I have been different in some ways? May be!
Much as I cherish my childhood, I should say that my father’s had some better aspects: sustainable living and lesser variables that determined one’s happiness.
For a child of today, it is possible to give the best of both worlds. As much as a technologically driven highly aware environment is important, spending time outdoors playing and learning is equally important. They say nurture and nature play a part in child development. If it is for the betterment of a child, deliberately taking time to expose them to the marvels of nature, a world devoid of technology once in a while wouldn’t be such a bad idea.