Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The last time I went to a toy store, before yesterday, was at Walden in Hyderabad in about 1995. To me, it was the most fascinating store, one that stored all the wonders of my childhood, pretty pencil cases, coffee table books on parrots, Enid Blytons, later Sweet Valley and Agatha Christie and the other shit I read then. (Although, I never read Mills & Boon, was Cynical From The Begining Girl). The section I liked best was the toys section, I loved the board games. Cluedo was my favourite then and a little earlier in my childhood, I loved those baby sized blonde haired, blue eyed dolls (for the lack of brown skinned, brown eyed dolls which, after all these years, are still not available, commercially. Why?). I remember my parents gifting me one of those dolls that costed Rs.700, then a HUGE amount. I remained eternally grateful till my older brother took a Reynold's ball point pen and wrote Count of Dracula and drew skulls all over her pretty peachy face. Every girl who grows up with an older brother is secretly traumatized for life. Now, a toy car, costs Rs.20,000 - one way trip to Europe, man!

The toy stores at the Select City (et al malls) scandalized me and the mall itself inspires a continuous cynical, satirical commentary in my head. My friends would say its bitterness at my inability to afford everything there. But they know that there is never a co-relation between what I can afford and what I buy.
I am the real consumerism's love child. I digress.

When I was a child, I was always disappointed that toys didn't mimic real life. A doctor's trolley was never pink in real life. I was lucky enough to have a white one with aluminium foil lined instruments- a choice I made over the pink one. That has changed. Now, there are toy food cans, toy hair dryers, toy barbecue sets, picnic-in-the-park sets, shopping trolleys and they are different degrees of realistic, and marketed that way. Everything I would have liked to have as a child, but never could have imagined seeing in a toy shop.

Except and I must bring in the pedantic feminism here, the barbies. Yes, there is the software engineer barbie with the pink laptop, the TV journalist barbie with skin like she has no stressful job, but then there are the homie barbies which make me sick. They sit daintily skirted at the edge of chairs. One even had a comic dialogue think popping out of her blonde head saying "Oh no, Ken is late again." (So, I'll wait here prettily till he comes back.)

There are dolls that sneeze and need looking after with fake tissues, they say mama and they cry and I recently learned that there are breastfeeding dolls.

I wonder if it is an inane question to ask: by why are there no father dolls? Let's try offering some bizzare explanations. Men's instincts tell them to spread their seed, not to nurture its consequences so there is no need to tap into "paternal instinct". Little boys like guns, little girls want to be just like their mamas. I don't know, really, if it's too basic a question to ask, or even a question to ask.

If you are politically correct, animal loving, technology retarded, mildly respectful of women, persongoing into a toy shop is like jumping bang into a future where you'll instantly be regarded as uncool. Sample this: a hunting game that you plug to your TV to shoot deer. The ad says "Catch the best that Mother Nature has to offer."
It also has a disclaimer: mild violence and crude humour.

Then there's the toy shaver, with real foam and fake blades that can make little Rahul feel macho. Rs.499.
Then there are the alien space ships, battery operated, to be assembled by (8+) children, the complexity of which made the waistcoated hag fag and I shudder. Was the world overtaking our ability to comprehend it?

On one hand, toys are mimicking the real world's complexity in subjectively ''healthy'' ways. There are toys that harness wind energy to work a robot, toys that you can perform medical surgery on.I went to visit my niece in England sometime back and she had one of those. Five years old, she lived in a room that was entirely pink- bed, wardrobe, linen, frocks, tennis clothes everything. (The mother care store in Delhi said above the "girls clothes section"- "colours of the season and of course, pink." On the other hand, it worried me, the passiveness that is passively encouraged in young girls. At 5, she was already so self conscious and positively obsessed with how she looked. She wanted to use make up. (I still don't know how to.) Going to tennis class was not about the tennis class but about the image of it, the pink pants, the huggie goodbyes, the prospect of getting sweets after. I wonder if I am being harsh but obviously this is more a comment on the society she is in.

There is another friend of mine, Nathan, aged 4, who knew the Star Wars by heart and played fake gun games with a very bewildered me all summer, that year. I don't remember all those characters from the movies he constantly referred to but I remember he wouldn't let me be a leader because " I am a girl." :)

CQ's mother, being American feminist Wiccan and all this believed that boys should play with dolls and made sure her son did.
Will women fall in love with men who have played with dolls and are in touch with their feelings? Not women who have been conditioned to expect fake strength from a man,anyway, right?

So, it starts with toys, our first real playmates, who engineer this constructed conditioning of how we are supposed to be. MY parents mostly disapproved of Barbie dolls and my barbies came as gifts although they once agreed to buy me the "School Going Skipper", so I didn't die failing to look like one. But the point, is we need to seriously think about some basic things that go unquestioned about toys. Why is a toy guy,(Freudian slip..I meant toy gun), a toy?

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