Where is the magic of childhood?

Do our children look around them? If they do, what do they see? How fertile is their imagination? Do they indulge in fantasy play? Intrigued by the question, I decided to find out.

I asked a Prachi 10, about the stars and the moon. Had she ever tried counting them? “I can google all about the solar system,” she proudly claimed.

Had she ever seen the real sky and tried figuring them out for herself? “I persisted, unwilling to give up. “There are so many mosquitoes outside at night!” said the kid with a grimace!

And then there was the day I saw a large grasshopper on the staircase. It was sitting perfectly still, as if holding a pose for a photograph, its front legs raised and together as if praying. In fact I thought it was a praying mantis at first. But on closer inspection, decided it was not. I was excited.

There were three kids in the building. I ran up and down the stairs rounding them up, taking care not to disturb the grasshopper

‘What is it?’ they kept asking me as they ran after me.

Pointing at the grasshopper like a magician showing off the rabbit he has just pulled out of the hat, I exclaimed,  “There! Look! Do you know what that it?”

They looked on curiously, but with no sense of excitement. Of them all, perhaps, I was the most animated and excited. If I’d expected them to show some life, maybe ask questions and explore, I was disappointed.

Maar do, (kill it) aunty!” said the eight-year-old. His words were dispassionate — a simple statement, as if by eliminating the creature, he would be free to leave.

The youngest boy was more promising. “What is it?” he asked.

But before I could answer, he had jumped off my arms, his momentary interest gone.

He called to the older boys, “Want to play He-man?”

That’s when I lost all hopes for this generation of kids growing up without magic, without imagination, without zest in their lives. They are growing up into consumers — of pre-cooked food, packaged fun and readymade adventures. And the worst part of it is that the fun is vicarious and the activities passive, where at best they are spectators. Their activities are structured, planned to the last detail and even summer holidays are crammed with activities, all of which are again, carefully planned. There is no spontaneity in our children’s lives.


But I’m being hasty in condemning the children for growing up without imagination. Adults, especially the parents, share the blame for this sorry state of affairs. How many of the adults we know of, can find magic around them? One of my acquaintances told me once that they always went to places where they could have readymade fun — fun fairs, films and such. The next thing she told me threw me completely. “Unless we spend money, we don’t feel we have had a good time,” she said.

Had they tried making their own fun? “Oh, it would be too tiring. Besides, who has the patience?” was her reply!

Here I’m reminded of an adventure camp that my son had gone to. He was thrilled to hear that they would be staying in tents. Imagine his disappointment to find instead, a tent-like structure thoughtfully furnished with all the comforts of a hotel room! So much for adventure!

I feel children from small towns and rural areas are more fortunate, for, they still have all these activities to make their lives more spontaneous.

Imagination has also taken a beating because the reading habit is fast disappearing. While reading a book, the imagery is vivid in the reader’s mind. Ask any parent about the reading habits of their children and you get the standard response: “where is the time to read, with so much homework and tuitions?”

But they omit to say that these same children sit for hours before the TV late into the night watching inane soaps and other programmes. Where do they find the time then?

The truth is that many parents themselves don’t have the reading habit, preferring the passive entertainment offered by the idiot box. So how can they motivate their children to read? Worse, they equate ‘reading’ with ‘studying’. Reading for pleasure is an alien concept to many parents. Studies have proved beyond doubt that reading parents inspire reading children. So unless the parents pick up a book, there is little chance of their children doing likewise.

Do these children know that things can be different? Can they ever capture the joy of throwing stones at the muddy ponds, trying to catch a frog, chasing a lizard out of the house, floating a paper boat in puddles formed by rainwater, trying to race the clouds, enjoying the thrill of a book….Oh, I could go on from now to eternity enumerating all the stuff they are missing. I remember how as a teenager my brother and I had once raced a storm, to beat it reaching home. I can still feel the racing pulse, the cool wind whipping at my face, the clouds following us in hot pursuit as I urged my brother to go a little faster on his ancient scooter.

Or the times we lay on the terrace on muggy summer nights counting stars and arguing about constellations and looking for shooting stars and Sputniks and later on the Aryabhatta as it lazily went round the earth. We didn’t even have any fan or cooler, leave alone an AC to pamper our bodies, and I thank god for that. For then we would have slept inside rooms, with doors and windows shut and thus missed on wonderful experiences offered by the magic of sleeping under the open sky.

Perhaps because of my own childhood, I have been able to instill some sense of magic in the lives of my boys. When my first son was a child, he had to be confined to the bed for a prolonged period of recuperation after a near fatal bout of diphtheria. How does one make a lively three-year-old stay in bed? I harked back to my own childhood and voila! I had all the necessary ammo to do it. The bed became an island surrounded by water infested with deadly sharks and crocodiles that would gobble us up the moment we stepped into the water. This involved showing him pictures of sharks and crocodiles and explaining about them. Odd items on the floor became crocodiles and sharks and he imagined them snapping at us. ‘Come here or the shark will gobble you,’ he would call from one corner of the bed, all excited.

Then there were the stories their father used to tell the boys. Of dragons and lions and wicked magicians who were after innocent children and how a brave boy (one of them, naturally) fought them and saved the children. There was no plot, and no storyline and the stories were repetitive. But they loved them nevertheless and would clamour for one everyday at bedtime. I have a sneaking suspicion that those stories helped them sleep without fear, for weren’t they capable of fighting anything that might scare them at night?


Why, only the other evening, as we were sitting on the terrace, we looked across at the tree opposite our house. ‘Doesn’t it look like a shaggy dog?’ I asked. ‘No, it looks like King Kong,’ said my eldest son. ‘I feel it looks like a monster,’ said his father. Then we asked my youngest. ‘Doesn’t it look like a lollipop?’ he questioned.

Make-believe; pretending — the watchwords of all the magic of childhood are fast vanishing. Pretend play doesn’t exist anymore. Reality is the name of the game. Pretend play helps children cope by taking them into the realm of fantasy. The most famous example I can think of is that of the book ‘Little Princess’, in which the little girl Susan pretends to be a princess, even in the cold attic, with barely enough to eat, wearing threadbare clothes and working like a slave. By pretending to be a princess she acts like one, not only carrying herself with regality but also overcoming  her privation.

One need not have oodles of money to have fun. All it requires is imagination and some effort.

It breaks my heart to see children growing up without this vital ingredient. And let us not say that they are too smart to be lured by such pretend games, when they are such computer whiz kids, little scientists and speakers and whatever not. All it requires is a little bit of imagination and effort on the part of the adults who inhabit their world. Hasn’t one such adult (J.K.Rowling) created an entire world of fantasy for children the world over, with her bespectacled boy wizard Harry Potter? Not to forget Roald Dahl with his Charlie and Chocolate Factory, BFG, etc.

Swati has said it succinctly in her comment, children today are, ‘low on spark and high on ignition.’ 

 So let’s switch off the mobile phone and shut the TV down while we take the hands of our children to dance in the rain, run over fields and look at the butterflies. Let’s not deprive them of the magic of growing up — the very magic of life.

Pics: Homepage:www.inhabitots.com This page top: http://www.thehindu.com

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  1. Yes, childhoods are changing drastically. Neither the parents nor the children have the time or let’s just say time to do nothing and engage with each other. The bane of gadgets means that we all are either hunched over our phones or our TVs to let someone else do the task of keeping us occupied. Not only pretend play or being out in the nature, how many of us play with our kids or even play otherwise? It is terrible and it is almost total. Very rarely do I see parents and children enjoying being outdoors, being one with nature and just having fun together without glancing at a gadget every 2 minutes.


    1. But when one wants, one can switch off gadgets and apps and make the children do the same, right? I remember you guys doing it and blogging about how S and G had the time of their lives, not missing anything from the city! It is only when we think that our children are too intelligent and smart for pretend play and impromptu games that the danger of their losing their imagination becomes real.


  2. What a lovely memoir 🙂

    What you wrote about children today is something I feel very strongly about.

    Low on spark, high on ignition – this phrase, I think, is apt for children/youngsters today. I don’t mean to generalize here, but I really see a slowdown of the ‘spark’ in them.

    There’s this sense of urgency in them, an eagerness to see immediate recognition for everything they do. There is no denying that they know too much, and are smarter (in some sense) than we were at their age. But they are always in a hurry, with their attention span lesser than a minute.

    But it isn’t their fault at all. We live in the times when we are expected to blurt out our thoughts in 140 characters or less, times when we are in touch with our acquaintances through a sneak peek into ‘What’s on your mind’. It is also the time when studying history doesn’t make sense to them, as everything about past, present and even probable future is available at a mouse click.

    There are so many ‘cool’ things available for them to do; they don’t seem to be interested in the traditional ways of ‘having fun’. High rise peer pressure, low rise jeans and a midriff of confusion, makes up for a very low on spark, high on ignition child. I say ignition, because of their fuming temper on every thing which is not how they want it to be. I wish they would calm down a bit, walk through the life rather than scurrying by it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder where my reply to this lovely comment went! I specially loved the phrase, ‘low on spark and high on ignition’ which I have taken the liberty of including in the post 🙂


  3. The magic is alive in your words! I got stories only when I did not eat (that too when I was very young), later on my parents decided not to tell any stories. I started enjoying the realm of fantasy through Enid Blyton and Micheal Creighton, much later. I too enjoyed sleeping on the terrace in the nights and starring at the sky for a long time. Back then, it was such a fun activity. I too remember arranging many objects and pretending them to be something else. Wonder how I remember them! Great post.

    Destination Infinity


    1. Thank you Rajesh. That was a nice compliment. But I sometimes despair when I look at the new age parents who are intent on packaged fun and activities to keep their children engaged.


  4. debajyoti · · Reply

    the new generation activities and games are quite addictive and everything else looks dull in front of them. those activities, as you mentioned, are planned so it’s quite mechanical just like how life is now. it’s more like counting days or rather moving from one level to another like a video game.

    we all are stuck now with these addictive activities with television, computer, gadgets, social networking sites, and it’s hard to come out of these.

    but we had fun and we had those magic moments as well :D.


    1. When did you post this comment? I never saw this one! You ahve said it — we move from one level to another and one activity to another like an automated creature. you sure would have had because you were lucky to be born at a time when these had not yet made their appearance. 🙂


  5. Thanks for pointing me to this one, Zephyr! Loved this one and you are so right – the kids are growing into consumers! Why not, everything is handed to them in a package so that is the attitude they imbibe.

    As an aside, that is the reason why I never watch a movie based on a book, before reading a book. It kills your imagination, truly! Isn’t it more fun to imagine how a castle or a flying saucer will be, rather watch someone’s re-creation of them?


    1. Hey, you found this one out by yourself, I pointed out other posts, if I remember. Anyway, I am glad you read it. It is not just the kids but their parents too who want to save time and effort by going in for these packages. Jaisa raja vaisa praja, right? I too prefer reading the book first and then seeing the movie. But one movie which is true to the book as much as possible is Outsiders, since the script has been written by the author herself. Have you read the book? If you have not do. Read All time favourite in which I have done a review of this book.


  6. This generation wants everything in a jiffy. No time for make believe or to put it correctly no patience.
    There are some parents who believe that reading is a waste of time and imagination a folly. So who can blame the kids?


    1. This generation might want things fast, but the parents can teach them to slow down, to appreciate other things than just technology. And when parents themselves don’t read, they can’t inspire their kids to do so. I shudder to think what will happen to this generation of kids when they become parents.


  7. Pratibha · · Reply

    i m glad i spent quantity time with my children in their growing age. I took a long 9 yrs. break from my job.I crawled, played stupid, meaningless, nameless games with them. Believe me d three of us enjoyed it. i would narrate n read stories 2 them when they could not read. My son was so fond of stories that i would start 1 n start putting food in his mouth & only stopped when he would finish meals. U know I never had a problem with my children’s meals or sleeping schedule as all our activities were performed together.

    Now that both my children r in their jobs n when i look back i wonder whether it is d quantity or the quality time that matters! Personally, I feel quantity time has been grossly under rated. In my case it has led 2 a strong bonding between us.


  8. 🙂 Thanks for the link I loved this post. you know I made sure that my boys had a very creative , imaginative childhood. at least till the time the video games and dinky bug did not bite them. Especially with my first born I had fun with different color pulses, pebbles, newspaper tearing, water colors, papaer boats, matchbox phones and a whole lot of stuff. It was a great bonding time for us. He has a blog and I keep telling him to write about his experiences till now.

    Thanks for all your lovely comments zephyr ..hugs


    1. Thank you for the very nice comment on the post.:) I had spent a lot of time playing games of imagination with my kids too. More with the older one, but the younger one is luckier because he also learns new games from their older siblings!

      I visited Adi’s blog and commented. He sure is a chip off the old block:)

      best to both mother and son. Love ya!


  9. Great post CB – and so true…U hardly ever see kids playing “unorganized games” like Hide and Seek etc downstairs…and i EVEN know of kids who dont know enid blyton…How can u live ur childhood not knowing abt pixies and gnomes and the wishing chair and enchanted woods???


    1. Thank you NN. Yes. Unorganised is a nice word, describing the games aptly. It is the time of structured entertainment, including games. And no Enid Blyton? Really? What is the world coming to? It is matter of serious concern, all right. so much artificial ‘reality’ in the world is making the kids cynical…

      So you have started the CB thing, have you? Methinks it should be CN, right?


      1. ok CN it is…and coz they hv no imagination they constantly need to be entertained. I am an only child and i have fond memories of the time when in the afternoon, my mom would go to sleep and i would play some game (driven by my imagination) on my own


        1. Thanks for the change in my name! Being a single child has its good and bad points, right? But our generation belongs to families with more than two children sometimes several! The thing is as you say, they need to be entertained constantly. Readymade fun has made sure of that. whereas a visit to the amusement park used to be an occasional affair, nowadays they have become one of the easiest way to have packaged fun. sigh!


  10. seriously amma…

    last year i was at a Kids party chaperoning friend’s sons… just for the heck of it, i asked one of the kids wat he wanted to do in twenty years.. he started giving me detailed plans of attending Yale university and a flourishing career after that.. i was dumb struck.. these kids wr just ten and i clearly remember that when i was ten all i wanted to do was ride a banana boat down the amazon river… maximum i would have played doctor with my dolly… *ok scratch the last part* ahem ahem…

    kids are just too matured for their age now a days..sighs


    1. That’s exactly what is so worrying. Kids are losing their childhood so fast. Talking of Yale at ten! That is some maturity. You were still better, hankering after a ride down the Amazon (proves you had read all about it, right?) I would have just played tag or tried to pluck mangoes from a kindly neighbour’s tree…I won’t be surprised if future generations of kids really believed that mangoes came in bottles of maaza and that you drank them!


      1. ha haha… i was well read alrite… my first book was a book on Wind energy 😛 Dad tot i was a prodigy…

        but i heard abt amazon and stuff from my father.. 🙂 he is well traveled…


        1. Wind energy! btw Was he right? about you being a prodigy? 😉


  11. I couldn’t agree with you more on this. It is so much easier to offer ourselves to these readymade and passive forms of entertainment, indulgence and musings that we’ve almost forgotten how much fun it is to live and enjoy without them. Kids are even more affected. Making them go against what their peers think as ‘cool’ and trying to engage them in ‘seemingly’ boring activities can be quite tough!

    It is only if we keep their imagination fertile that we’ll be able to see good writers tomorrow, or else there’ll only be ‘casual’ ones left which are most famous today.


    1. I agree with you on that Varsh. Going against peers can be worse than any punishment for today’s kids! I can understand your feelings about ‘casual’ writers. Where would another Harry Potter or Charlie come from if we allow our kids to feed on passive viewing, right?

      Fortunately, this generation of educated young mums (you included) are careful to give their kids a sample of the joys they themselves found in active games and pastimes! That certainly gives me hope.


  12. I normally use a word “Gratification of senses” for describing the last para above. Taking time to see the flowrs nurture, Smell some fresh air, watching the sky, the birds flying …
    i Jst need to flip back some memory lanes.. and there I am ..was sitting with my siblings and our nanny’s place t summer holiday’s … under the spreading Banyan tree, which was in our Garden …at the feet of nani ma.. we all listened in fascination to the myths and legends … and we were always hooked. More thn we hook now to Tv, or twitter or blogs.
    those stories were part of our psyche.It was magical indeed… With her voice .. and the mimicry she used to do .. made the stories come alive. And Yes are their keepers and must not lose many of these magical art that has been passed down through time.
    When i see kids around me.. all they talk about even in class 2nd is valentine day, bf’s, techology and Tv!. The real intellect comes to them little late these days. Yes they are smart and too good at most of the things.
    But honestly a person in a life span sumwhere or the other learn this .. that its nt jst money, or fame, or power that is needed to be living.. it’s to be close to the nature.. and appreciating it..
    We talk about kids.. I talk about my pals.. WHo has time for watching a bird fly? wen we at the backhead u wonder how to complete a project? or catch a metro? or mange money?. We spend life’s running after sumthing which cant even give us peace of mind.. We do learn .. but by paying cost of our childhood..

    But just because the new generation is worse than the previous one, doesn’t mean the previous one wasn’t worse than the one before that.:P

    Technology is fun and addictive.. Wen i can see amazing mums being bloggers… I cherish it…Imagine 30 years back .. If blogging was available…

    Well i personally feel the best way is to take time out in a month atleast and go out with ur family.. for a drive , for some show, for anything, that keeps your intellects open. Help a child be inquisitive and kind, by making him understand , what ever we do.. we pay here.. In which way God punishes you .. you never know…

    And honestly everyone understands the importance of the real MAGIC of life… maybe a little late… but it’s never late to return.. after all We are the master’s of our life!:)


    1. That was one thought-provoking comment, Ridhima. btw, it is nice to see your face!

      You are so right about taking time off once in a way to enjoy the simple things of life instead of chasing deadlines and running constantly to catch up with the clock. As you say, we all understand the importance of magic. if only we did it now and not too late!


      1. Thanks for dat Zephyr mum… Btw.. why dont u ask ur busy bum son.. D pooh to change ur DP(display pic). I mean anything better thn this pink guy wid spects. And look at those teeth.. half seem dropped:P. ( Though I had requested him to do it some time back but he has a lazy ass).
        Btw u can put a pic of Aura or Zephyr, Dat will absolutely compliment your profile. What say??
        Lets hope He changes it wen he’s back from his ride!


        1. The DP is fine with me! I have not explored the options and so let it be. The DP shows a good right eye, whereas I have a good left eye! The teeth, well I might lose some, given my ripe old age :O


        2. Hmm.. Good enough !!! Wondering whts Ripe age will bring for all of us?? or for few of us! who’s willing to live that long! No way!… it’s Scary!
          As far as the DP is concerned m pretty sure .. sumday u wud change it.. dat day might be after a year even!!.
          It’s a human tendency to get bored wid one things! at least with similar non living things:P!


  13. Mahadevkirti · · Reply

    Awesome post!!


    1. Thank you so much, Mahadevkirti! Do visit again.


  14. Amazing blog. I guess as the years go by, the next generations always miss out something that gets obsolete. I find it funny that my Mom used to climb a tree and eat berries off it, and used to play carrom all day during their school vacations or sleep in the courtyard under the sky like you said counting stars. I reckon, my kids will find it funny that we used to play games like ‘Pakada Pakadi’ and ‘Langadi’ and not simulated computer games or something that comes up in their generation. I don’t know if it is urbanisation that is causing this or if its just that nobody has the time for simple joys in life anymore.


    1. Thank you Richa for the nice comment. You are right about each generation giving up something that the earlier one did. What is worrying me is that the kids of this generation don’t even play any game like hide-and-seek or catch. Unless a game is competitive they would rather not play it at all! Soon, they would only be enjoying games on the TV or video consoles. It is definitely the result of urbanisation, since kids in the smaller towns and rural areas still play simple playground games.


  15. Nice post ma’am. Enjoyed reading it. It does highlight a lot of issues prevalent in current societal structures where kids are pushed into competition so early on that they don’t get a chance to live their childhood thoroughly!


    1. Yes, sad isn’t it? Kids today carry an awful burden indeed. It is time to let them be kids instead of expecting them to be performing geniuses.


  16. nice and thoughtful. i wouldn’t know much about imagination and all that. I find myself increasingly incapable of the same. but i do remember doing stuff as a kid which I never saw my brother do (separated by a decade) – he doesn’t what its like to climb trees or indulge into star gazing. he never used to read till harry potter came along, but now has turned into a voracious one, apart from being a hard rock fan. as a kid i was inspired to read as way of reward – a book, say secret seven, would be hyped up by mum so much that i would rush through my homework to snatch an hour with secret seven before bedtime. not to mention my maternal grandparents are both voracious readers. such was my addiction i remember reading novels in class at high school (never got caught :D).

    but i don’t know the trees, not always sure about the birds. wouldn’t really know the difference between a fresh veg and a not so fresh one, neither would I ever understand how my parents n grandparents could tell a good fish apart from a bad one before buying or anything.

    oh am not really fond of the idiot box. having said that while the idiot box was the demon for our gen, its internet for the new one.


    1. You hit the nail on the head when you say that you are increasinlgy incapable of imagination. That’s the bane of adulthood, not childhood. That’s the entire point. J.K.Rowling has done immense service to the present of hopefully future generations by creating Harry Potter. Thanks to him, kids can indulge in fantasy. We tend to carry ‘reality’ too far. just witness all those shows masquerading as ‘reality shows’!

      You are right about the internet being the new demon of this generation, in addition to so many other ‘demons’.


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