In the early 1960s Bapuji decided that it was time for the toy shop to become a retailer of variety. To China he went. He brought back plastic- shiny, lots of it. Everyone seemed to like the dolls with blinking, wide blue eyes and the bright, singing baby walkers. The unusual crockery was a success, the watches and costume jewellery well-received and the metal cars displayed in the glass cases widened the eyes of the customers’ children. The cool and the kitsch fought for space on the toy shop shelves.
In fact, Bapuji appears to have been a retail pioneer in his corner of Africa. Airplane travel was relatively uncommon 50 years ago, and it certainly took some enterprise to venture into a country with an entirely unknown language and culture without the safety of Google Translate in the suit pocket. He had to find a cheap hotel and source an agent specialising in the purchase of toys and sundries, using pidgin English- his third language- as a medium. The agent would take him to a shop which displayed wholesale wares and Bapuji, pen in hand, weighing up quantities and cost, would note down his choices. Decisions and down payment made, he would place his trust in the agent and return home to await the shipment. Bapuji managed to build a wholesale business, which thrived for a while and supplied toy shops over the breadth of the country and beyond. Each year, until 2004, he travelled for trade- first to China, then to Japan and finally to the gleaming towers of Dubai. Aged 88, he allowed Indira and Sudhir to take over business travel.
I waded through my own children’s toys this morning. It rained yesterday afternoon- poured- and the children busily emptied all of their toy boxes onto the floor. We didn’t have the energy to clear up the mess last night, and besides, I am still trying to teach them, clearly quite unsuccessfully, to tidy up after themselves. To be fair, the smalls did most of the tidying this morning, but while the toys had been scattered and trampled on they had sustained several minor injuries- dents and tears. “They just have too much stuff. They don’t really appreciate how lucky they are, and so they don’t look after it.” I thought, crotchety from early morning waking. Even though the proximity of the toy shop meant that Nikhil and I spent a few half-hours ‘helping’ Bapuji there every week it just wasn’t practical to leave him in charge of pre-school children while he tried to serve customers, and the apartment was too small to clutter with more than a small number of selected toys. My parents’ generation had a few games- Ludo was a favourite- but mainly they played outside with the neighbourhood children. Ba and Bapuji are bemused when asked about toys and possessions in childhood, so alien is the thought. It appears that each successive generation has more playthings and paraphernalia, and the value of each of them is lost in the mass. I fear for my children, when they too become parents, if this exponential rise in childhood possessions continues, not only because they will be fighting to avoid raising spoiled, disenchanted yoof, but also because they will need a mansion to house it all.