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ASKED TO INVITE ALUMNI FOR A FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY reunion, I wanted to send personal letters to each one. I imagined what I would say and how beautiful the letters would look. Visiting well-appointed stationers, I was taken aback by their uniformly negative response. They no longer kept letter paper, they said. It is the age of SMS and e-mail, fax and phone. My desire to write letters recalling memories of forty years ago was not to be. I fell back on A-4 paper, and dispatched hundred officious looking computer printouts, cold, impersonal and unworthy of the occasion.

My thoughts went back to those wonderful letters we used to exchange, the descriptions, the humour, the pathos, the irony, which we captured through the written word. How can ‘reply ASAP’ ever replace the warmth of “I miss you, I’m thinking of you. Do reply, because I really look forward to hearing from you.”

And it is not all about letter writing. There is a sea-change in everything we once did and now do no more. As children of the forties, fifties and sixties, we could tell a thing or two to the youngsters of today, if they had time to listen.

We were the hardy progeny of mothers who ate high calorie meals and carbohydrate rich food. Mothers who never got theirer. cholesterol tested and who had no concern about diabetes. They all had natural childbirths, and never complained of stressful lives and menopausal symptoms. They stitched home-made nappies for their babies, smeared kajal in their eyes and a black dot on their foreheads to ward off the evil eye. When we fell off our
bicycles and grazed our knees, a scolding and a stinging smear of mercurochrome and iodine was what we got. Pain was something you had to bear — painkillers were unknown.

We went to picnics at Tughiakabad or Surajkund in jam packed cars on the ample knees of chuckling aunts and uncles. One car did the work of three and boxfuls of tomato sandwiches disappeared before you could say ‘ice-cream’. We shared the same bottle of lemonade and never picked up any infection. We ate samosas and jalebis, mithai and home-made chocolate cakes, but no one put on weight, let alone became obese. We played hide-and-seek till our legs dropped and ran errands to the market. We had no ninety-nine channels, cable TV, DVD, video games, cell phones, personal computers, Internet cafes. But we had lots of friends. No parents checked on us, because our voices would resound through the neighbourhood alleys, until it was time to get home. We suffered bouts of measles, mumps and chicken pox and were given hot water baths from steaming buckets of water boiled with neem leaves to get rid of the infection. We got no pocket money, went to movies with our parents, and quarreled with our siblings about which film to see. Tickets for the balcony seats cost two rupees and a chicken patty, four annas.

“Those were the days, my friend,” which as the old song goes, “we thought would never end.” But end they did, never to come back. I feel sorry for today’s children as they slump before screens, eyeballs riveted to a space no larger than a table mat, while childhood flits past them forever. Perhaps they are brighter, smarter kids, but do they know what childhood is?


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