“One, two, three and go! There was a big splash in the neck deep stream water. There was continuous hopping up and down oblivious of the passing hours. Naughty fishes tickled in the naked body. Someone discovered that all our clothes dumped on the bank of the stream were gone. After a while, they were retrieved by one of our friend with a mischievous grin.” Soaping my body in the bathtub my mind went back to childhood days in the later half of the eighties. How vibrant was the childhood of our generation with lots of innocent pranks and activities!
Perhaps we are the last generations who used table or hand lamp for all purposes because there was no electricity in villages those days. In summer days granny fanned us with bamboo hand fans until we fell asleep. Rolling the tyres of bicycles with a stick on dusty roads was a great pleasure and there used to be competitions of who could do it faster and better. The elders placed their younger brothers or sisters on betel-nut barks and pulled them in the manner of sledge cars. In summer we came out in groups with an intention of fighting mock duals with boys of nearby villages. The chinaberry seeds were put inside the hollow bamboo pipes and pushed out with a bamboo stick to shoot the opponent friends. The duals were not vicious however, though the shooting of chinaberry seeds caused a little pain on uncovered areas of body. There was a sense of heroism among the participants of the game.
There were no drawing or music classes for us on holidays in those days. Our parents were not strict on us in any matter but none of us thought of taking undue advantage of their generosity. Our obedience to them was natural. Holidays meant total freedom. Picking birds’ eggs from the trees or river beds and collecting seasonal fruits was a favourite pastime. There were no fencing in people’s orchard and we were free to climb the trees and pick local ripe fruits. Some families however told us not to eat raw mangoes with salt, as we used to do, sitting on the fangs of branches as they believed that the fruits might rot in doing so. We did not know the scientific validity behind such beliefs but the sentiment was duly honoured. The ripe fruits were so fragrant and nutritious that perhaps they built our natural immunity. Cookies was very popular in those days .We derived pleasure in eating five paise worth cookies dipped in tea.
Now, I am a vegetarian but in those days I used to be fond of local fish. During monsoon various kinds of fishes came through the canal that passed in front of our house. We used to put sceive in the canal horizontally to block the movement of cat fish. As a result the fishes jumped out of the canal and we picked them up. There was another big canal not far from our house which was used for irrigating paddy fields. It was not a perennial canal but in monsoon it overflowed. As water receded the water turned transparent through which shoals of silver mahseers could be seen. In the evening I would accompany my father and uncles in fishing. Uncle would switch on a powerful torchlight in the shallow water and father would strike the big fishes with the sharp points of the scythe.
In those days marriages were not organised with pomp .The wedding houses were lit with petromax lights. The canopy was made with banana leaves slung over bamboo poles with the voluntary service of the neighbours. Even the wedding feast was prepared by the villagers. There were no provisions of desk benches for serving food to the bridegroom’s people and villagers .It was a joy sitting on the ground and eating the simple feast on dishes and bowls of leaves .We drank water from ring-well without filtering and we were not very much conscious about hygiene except taking bath daily but it caused no health issues. Even if there was minor illness we were taken to the village doctor who would chant some mantras and miraculously it worked.
As each and every family in villages had cultivable land for paddy cultivation we missed no opportunity of going to the fields carrying food to the people engaged in cultivation. Whenever the ploughmen were busy eating my brother and I would try to plough in mud or my sisters would plant rice seedlings along with others. In the reaping season ripe paddy sheaves were loaded on bullock carts to bring them home while we were placed near the cart driver. Another fun of cultivation period was guarding the paddy seed bed and maize plants from doves and parrots by beating drums.
For rural folks like us a real football was a dream. Of course, we used to get one before Durga Puja when the thrashed paddy was sold in the market. There was however nature’s alternative in the form of Pomello fruit in its peak season. We played with it until our feet were wet with the pomello juice. Hide and seek, gilli danda, kabaddi etc. were popular games in those days. There was no role of parents in any of the games played by the children.
It is not impossible though difficult to recreate those primitive and innocent pleasure of our time for the children of this generation. Though the world has become a global village our emotional world is shrinking between high walls of self-centeredness. Nature was the open source of fine recreation. It would be wrong to say that there is no recreation for children of present time but it seems lacking in life and spirit. There are children parks, swimming pools, video games, computers, riding courses, excursions, picnics, cinema halls and various kinds of games and sports for recreations today. The children of present time enjoy these distractions as natural because they have no choice. Our childhood itself was full of fun, enthusiasm and spirit that there was no need of institutional recreations.
Now, let us go to the title. We are fortunate not in the sense that we had a vibrant childhood in close proximity with nature because our predecessors lived in closer proximity with nature than we have done. We are the last generation in the sense that we have experienced both the blissful world as well as the digital world of today. Ours is the last generation who studied under table lamp and is now navigating in the high-tech virtual ocean of the twenty first century. We have sung the glory of nature and we have also seen the success of science and technology reaching the pinnacle. Neither our preceding generation nor the present generation have experienced two different worlds. So, three big cheers to our generation.