Monday, June 11, 2012

Toys for Boys

My grand-nephew, barely a year and a half, pushed a basket, huge for his size, to the drawing room and placed it in front of me. Before I could realise what happened, he toppled it and out came a variety of toys. Plastic, wooden, metallic, rubberised, electronic, cuddly, what have you. All colourful and most made in China.

When the word 'toys' is mentioned, green is the only colour I can think of. All the toys I had in my childhood were green. And they were all home made. Made of, what else, coconut palm fronds, banana leaves and green stuff.

Like the watch you can see here. It is so easy to make.  Even a four-year old can make it. All you need is a 12 cm piece of frond and a 2 cm piece.  Girls can make a bangle using a slightly longer piece so that it lies loosely around your wrist.

From the watch, you graduate to reading glasses. It needs a 24 cm piece and two ‘spines’ of the frond for legs. During our summer vacations in the village, all of us used to go around sporting a watch and a pair of spectacles.

Equally easy is the windmill. You run holding it and in the breeze, the windmill would spin at top speed. 

Snakes are easy to make too. There are two varieties.The more complicated one would coil and uncoil. A usual contest  among boys on rainy afternoons used to be to see whole snake would uncoil first. The secret of success was the optimum tightness of the 'weave'. If the weave was too loose, it would come apart fast in the first few seconds after which there would be no progress; if too tight, it would not uncoil at all. 

The ball is a different ballgame (Forgive the pun) altogether. It calls for greater expertise. You take four strands, knot then together at the lean end and weave them together, quite like the way girls plait their flowing tresses, giving it a cubical shape as you go along.

 If you embed a small pebble in the system as the process begins, the ball would be heavy and its momentum greater. Such balls are in great demand for playing native games like AaTTa or Talappant, which like the 'tools' of the game, have become extinct.

A more refined version is made using eight strands, like the one shown alongside. Experts make sausage-shaped balls with eight strands and big ones using with 16 strands but I must confess I have left it to the  masters of the ball-craft. It is too complicated for me and I have not even attempted to master the technique.

Then there is the parrot which many do not attempt. It is quite a complicated piece with several components (though all are from the fronds of palms) and it would take an  expert  to make an elegant piece. You could make cages in which these parrots could be lodged. We would hang them on the cradles of the babies (Yes, in any joint family, there would at least be two in the house at any point of time.)

It was as if there was an unwritten rule that toys, like children, should only be seen and not heard. The only exceptions were, in order of increasing decibel level, the sewing machine, the 'whirrer' and the bugle. 

For making the sewing machine, you need the young seed cast away by the coconut palm. Hold the horizontal pin and give the assembly a light twist, Maintain the movement at a steady pace and you can hear the mechanical rhythm of a Singer machine. Experts put a leaf in the moving part. A few spins later, it would drop off, with marks on it, as though it has been stitched!

The whirrer has to be tied to a string; holding the loose end, spin the contraption around one’s head to hear a loud whirr.

One has to blow through the bugle. No two bugles make the same noise, though!

With other locally available materials like the leaves of mango trees and jackfruit trees, stems of tapioca plants, the core of banana trees, the sap of castor plants, leaves of ferns and the like, you could make a hundred other items, but that is subject for another post!


Balachandran V said...

I remember them from my boyhood, vacations spent at Mavelikkara! To be honest, I couldn't make even the simple watch. The local neighbourhood boys used to make them for me. I remember I was fascinated by the Snake. Thanks for reminding me of those days...

anilkurup said...

Those were the days when the Chinese were not keen in trading they were more into entrenching the military might.