The priceless childhood toys

Hari Krishan Chaudhary

Five decades ago, as a kid I would often play alone than in a group, but never felt alone. My earliest fascination was for butterflies, from the miniature grey ones to the beautiful, shining black-spotted wings — the rare ones we called ‘Raja’. And when its wings touched our fingers, our adrenalin rose.

We could rarely catch it. It was a great dodger. The most common ones we frequently caught were the smaller yellow ones, whose colour stuck on the fingers, and when caught, it stretched its wings in an attempt to free itself. When we flung it in the air, it would fly as before, as if nothing had happened.

I remember the toy fan we made by folding a page of our notebook into three strips and then refolding it, keeping the strips one over the other, and passing them into each other to make it into an inverted fan that rotated on the pencil tip when placed below a ceiling fan. It rotated fast, to our delight.

Growing older, the toy that caught our fancy was the lattu. It started from the simple balloon seller’s plastic top, which could be rotated by spinning its elongated tip with the fingers. It would rotate fast till its colour changed, before it lost momentum and regained the colour. But the real lattu of bigger boys was the wooden one, with an iron nail protruding on its head and below.

This inverted onion-shaped top was of the size of a normal onion to as large as a cricket ball, and even bigger. It had to be rotated carefully, lest its sheer size and the protruding nails hurt someone. A long string was tied several times on its round body, before it was thrown at an angle with the end of string retained in the hand. It untied itself from the string, gained rotatory momentum and separated from the string while landing on the ground, rotating with a motion much longer than the plastic top.

The technique to rotate it needed much practice, but once adept at it, you could do many more tricks with it — putting it on your palm, where it rotated like it would on the ground. Another trick was to break the opponent’s toy with the top by aiming the nail at it in a perfect throw.

Now, these fascinating tops have vanished, like the house sparrow.

Gulel was another fascinating target-hitting toy that came in the same category as bow and arrows and marbles. Two more iconic toys were paper-planes and paper-boats, which flew in the air and floated in the monsoon rivulets….

But the toy that still chases me in my dreams was the aluminium frog that I won in a lucky-dip competition at a fair. It was a simple contraption — a spring below its body, fixed in a glue-like formation. It was kept on the ground, the tension of the spring pulling the strip from the glue, making it jump high, to my delight. No battery, no mechanics, only the creator’s imagination to produce a thing of immense joy for a child.

None of these toys were purchased from a shop, but they were nonetheless priceless.

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