Monday, June 19, 2006

Toys for boys. An Egyptian mummy, too.

A favourite childhood toy I remember vividly was a chutney green road roller cast out of metal. It had a tall chimney. It was powered by a spring-loaded clockwork wind-up engine. You could remove the key before you put it down to do its backward and forward road rolling routine. I have a feeling I had persuaded my father to buy it for me from the famous Lucky Toy Mart at Crawford Market. I also used to play with a clockwork train set - green as well - pulled by a 'coal-fired' replica engine and railroad sections, straight as well as curved. I had managed to acquire from I don't remember where quite a few more such sections. I used to set up an entire journey track with a gradient and a bridge using bits and pieces of other toys like wooden house building sections. No readymade layout for me like the one I see Armaan and Anika playing with! My Meccano set, a modest No. 2 or No. 3, had been purchased from Whiteway Laidlaw, the pucca Brit department store near Flora Fountain. (Its premises were later taken over by the Khadi & Gramodyog Commission and now houses the Khadi Bhandar.) I used to make windmills and other movable toys with my Meccano set and run them with a miniature battery-powered motor they used to sell at the time. I also had a pink coloured nicely sculpted wooden street lamp with a tiny bulb. I remember using a flat Everready battery to light it up. It was a regular part of my improvised railroad layout. Once, during a Navi Wadi jatra (fair) for our family deity, Maheshwari, I bought myself a plastic 'coffin' with a plastic Egyptian 'mummy' lying flat in it. So tiny was this toy that I could easily hold it in my childish palm. In the coffin's false bottom was hidden a magnet - as also inside the mummy. When you gave the coffin a nudge, the magnet would shift causing the mummy to rise. It was applied magnetism and polarity at their best. I thought it was powerful magic, though, and paid the toy seller ten rupees instead of the real price of five rupees for it. (In short, I did not haggle.) When the truth was out, one of my cousins accompanied me to the toy shop the very next day and managed to get back the extra five rupees with a combination of cajoling and mild threats. I watched this drama with a red face standing far from centre stage and thinking the fuss was uncalled for. Powerful magic was supposed to be worth a lot, wasn't it?

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