I met Rahul on my way to the milk booth. He held a half-peeled banana in his hand as he hurried down, his mother close behind him with what looked like a badminton kit. Though the summer vacation had commenced, Rahul had not visited us for a fortnight, not even for the regular chess competitions the two of us (Rahul and I) have at my home.
I saw them again the next day, huffing and puffing their way to the main gate of ourpremises. As the boy boarded a waiting van and Neetu, Rahul’s mother, waved at him, I got curious and decided to wait for her.
She was panting, but sported a smile as she came near, blurting out “Rahul has become super busy now. I guess you guys are rarely meeting.” She elaborated. Rahul’s mornings were blocked with badminton classes, while the afternoons were spent in a summer camp.
What was he doing in the summer camp? Learning a host of things – Getting exposed to a variety of arts, ranging from pottery being done by ‘real’ potters, candle-making to western dance and even gymnastics. Wasn’t it a little too much for a seven-year old?
“Don’t such packed mornings and evenings exhaust him?” I ask meekly, slightly embarrassed for sounding so primitive. She pooh-poohed my concern as we came near our elevator. I was about to say something in defense of my questions when I noticed her attention riveted on the notice board. A fresh notice announced the commencement of swimming classes in our swimming pool. Also, karate classes would be ‘on’ next week onwards.
Leaving Neetu near the notice board to decide on her son’s fate for the next two months, I went on my way slightly confused, not sure if the Rahuls of this generation are moving too fast to enjoy their childhood days or are quickly transforming into rough and tough guys as they learn the art of multi-tasking with the other creative arts.
Or rather,whether they are moving towards burning out soon or are learning to be master of all trades.
My childhood days
Sipping tea, ensconced in the luxury of a relaxed afternoon and the cool breeze of a cloudy day, I went back to my old summer vacation days which would be lost in climbing trees, hanging from branches, jumping over walls and earning me the ‘tomboy’ label and making stealthy trips to Grandma’s kitchen stocked up with jars of sweet and salty home-made savouries and also romping around in the garden as we dug into the raw mangoes that lent their fragrance to the fresh air. Our imagination running wild as the huge garden turned into a forest one day while another day, it was the universe with each plant being a celestial body in disguise.
I was in dilemma. Which would I choose if I were gifted with a second childhood? Where did the summer holidays magic lie? Creative juices flowing abundantly in those summer haunts from my childhood days or in today’s summer camps organised within the confines of apartment complexes?
Dreams getting nourished in the lap of nature or structured activities carried out within the strict limits of time? Those golden days of summer freedom or today’s summer camps soaked with creativity within the boundaries of concrete jungle?
Scenes from summers of decades back played on before my eyes. Lazy evening hours spent with Grandma as ghosts from her endless stories peeped from behind tall deodars casting long shadows in the sprawling terrace where our gang of cousins sat huddled together unwilling to get up to satiate our dry throats lest those imaginary creatures came to life and went down our throats straight in to our stomachs as we drank water.
Losing ourselves in star-gazing as the hot evening gave way to a cool night and glasses of water-melon juice helped us wash down heavy dinner of paranthas dripping with home-made ghee accompanied by raw mango pickle, our uncles’ favourite.
Gazing at the moonlit sky from the terrace where we dropped off in makeshift beds arranged in a line for us all to dream about fairies who moved with magic wands and waking up as the golden sunshine caressed our faces with the pale sky turning into a huge palette of colours.
Which would I prefer? Splashing around with gay abandon in the pond a mile away from Grandma’s house or learning the backstrokes in the swimming pool under the strict eyes of the coach? Rolling in the grass as we fought bitter battles over Grandma’s home-made namkeens and pickles or imbibing the basics of self-defence through karate classes? The list doesn’t end.
“You can’t afford to be so poetic anymore, you know. Children must learn the art of time-management to balance summer camp activities with fun,” Neetu tried to convince me when I still worried about how such camps robbed these children of their precious leisure time.
“These days will not come back, so they have to make the most of them”, Neetu said finally, a little crestfallen that I didn’t appreciate her wisdom in chalking out a perfect plan to take care of her son’s summer vacation. “Yeah, these golden days will never come back.” I lamented. ⊕