Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
CRAFT: March 21, 1999
Kindling the creative mind
V. R. Devika
The children were at the sand pit. I, their kindergarten teacher, was observing little Ashok engrossed in his game. He was sitting on a granite stone and playing bus driver. Changing gears, slamming the breaks, taking the bends with great speed, cursing smaller vehicles and pedestrians and conversing with the passengers.... Another child, playing mother, had a small mishap. The stone she had used for a kitchen stove was taken away to be used as cricket stumps. I rushed to console the wailing girl who was screamed at by our driver. "Ennamma veettile sollittu vandirukkiya..." (Have you taken leave of the folks at home?), a common phrase used to rebuke daredevils who are careless on the road.
Children can really lose themselves while playing with toys, an experience that transcends mere fun. Toys should involve emotion and drama.... The most high tech toy can pale in comparison to a couple of stones that become an object of imagination to the child - a pipe made of a coconut leaf, a wheel made out of a coconut shell, a bicycle tube, run through the streets, with a stick to balance it. The toy cart that drummed on the clay pot covered with paper as one drags it....
Toys show the adult in us, the scientific way of discovering the world around us. Fun with elements of discovery and drama makes toys and in turn makes every child a craftsperson.
If you look around you will see genii at work turning out toys from throwaway things. Making paper boats, bursting paper bags and making matchbox telephones and many more. The bewitching range of handicrafts is so fascinating that there is hardly any division between art and craft.
Dasara is a time when a variety of dolls are displayed, sharing the joy of creativity. A kite festival to show the magic of paper craft is also an instance. The moulded clay and papier-mÆchÆ animals and human figures, enriched by myths, folk tales, epics, become a part of a child's life, giving a glimpse of adult life.
The wooden toys of Kondapalli have now become popular as showpieces. The village in Andhra Pradesh brings out little figures that portray different rural vocations. The style is very realistic and delicate. So are the Nirmal toys. Lacquered toys from Ettikopaka comprise animals and birds. Household articles like cooking vessels, furniture in miniature size are a great attraction. There are also lacquered toys from Chennapatna complete with a grinding stone, mortar, pestle, a rolling pin and a well in a basket. There is also the balancing doll, the snake charmer, and the vegetable vendor.
There are folk toys peculiar to each region. A cart drawn by a sparrow, cradle on a stand etc. from Rajasthan, cloth animals, fruits and vegetable of Gokak, rag dolls of Bihar, the Krishnanagar dolls, wooden toys from Ranchi, all speak of a culture and induce an acute sense of adventure in the making of these toys.
There are wooden, clay and cloth toys, rattles, dolls and mechanical toys. There are toys which produce sounds, move and change forms.
Many of the toys are accidental inventions, one thing made into another by changing its functions; synthesised and integrated to taste, touch, hear, see and become part of the environment through the medium of toys.
Young and old enjoy playing with folk toys. A popular toy in Kerala is made out of tender coconut. By removing its petals, taking a vein of the coconut leaf, inserting it into the soft tender coconut forming a loop, inserting a straight stick in the middle of this and by rotating this on a stronger stick made of a few coconut sticks, a tinkling sound is produced.
Toys help the child learn in an enjoyable way. The coloured wooden blocks that can be stacked, nested, counted or used to construct buildings. This is a way to know the biggest and the smallest, the sequence and quantity. This also trains the child's eye-hand coordination. Sudha Mahesh, at the Headstart School uses only play to communicate ideas. Snake and ladder games with letters of the alphabet communicate, stringing the bead, choosing coloured beads which match the thread, puppet theatres to tell stories - these are new folk toys that bring joy to learning.
Toy guns have replaced bows and arrows, the Internet has 236 categories and 2260 sites for toys that kindle the creative mind. Toys that teach and toys that move. It is interesting to know that the old educational puzzles are actually made from shesham and rosewood near Halda in North India. With a beeswax finish and kiln dried, says an advertisement. All these go to show that folk toys are eternal and the simpler ones will forever be popular even amidst computer toys.... Only the makers may not be around. Who can stand against the market forces?
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