Most of us grow up too soon. These days, anyway, children mature far too early. Not only has physical growth been accelerated by evolutionary processes, the rate of mental development of kids is far superior to olden times.
Last year I met 106-year- old marathon runner Fauja Singh at the Play Write event in Chandigarh. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he’d learnt to walk only at the age of six years! The milestones which paediatricians predict for tiny tots are no longer what they used to be. The onset of every landmark has been hastened. Girls look like young women once they cross 15. Beards emerge across the countenances of young lads far too soon. Everything appears to have been fast forwarded by the divine magician. So much so, grey hair starts appearing on the scalps of twentysomethings and hair loss usually occurs soon thereafter!
On the plane of mental development too, the contrast is starkly visible. Toddlers in the past were far dumber than those of the current era, which means that today’s grown-ups were relatively slow learners when they were young. Some still are, of course! Smart gadgets and smarter kids are in fashion today. Young children become tech savvy and market savvy even before they learn to eat with their mouths closed.
Something tells me that it’s important for human beings of our times to retain that innocence which seems to have been lost somewhere down the road. In bygone eras there was less of everything; fewer distractions and fewer grown up pastimes. Restaurants and clubs were frequented only by the elite few. Malls were non-existent. People would sit together with family and friends and carry out conversations which were mostly wholesome. Playing the fool and laughing aloud was part and parcel of such group activities.
Seldom do adults exhibit any semblance of childlike enthusiasm these days. Perhaps a new car excites the yuppie generation; little else. Even vacations prove to be tiresome for them after a while. Most people have forgotten how to laugh. Very few rollicking laughs can be heard these days; except at performances by stand-up comics perhaps who usually have to resort to crass jokes to elicit any sort of mirth.
A saint said that we should be childlike throughout our lives, without attachment, without resentment, full of life and joy. While that might be a super human quality to manifest at all times, there is no harm in letting ourselves just ‘go’ once in a while, just as children do. We are far too conscious of society around us to really enjoy ourselves.
Small children have no such qualms of course. The laughter of street urchins is uninhibited and unbridled even today. They have no strings attached to their little joys. Splashing water on each other in a rain puddle or running around with an old tyre while beating it with a stick are still their simple ways of entertaining themselves in pure ways.
When we watch the elderly playing with their grandchildren and loving every minute of it, we realise that we did not do the same while our children were growing up. We were far too besotted with their schools and tuitions and karate classes. The most memorable moments of family time can be those when young dads and moms indulge in harmless tomfoolery with their tiny tots. The laughter of their kids while playing childish games will ring forever in their hearts like sweet melodious music.
Yet, being childish and being childlike are two different things. Some people never learn to accept setbacks in life and remain cry babies forever. Being cynical comes easily to them too. But those who are childlike retain the verve and gusto that enables them to combat life’s vagaries.
Playfulness and a sense of joie de vivre can be an intrinsic part of our personas if we shed our grown up consciousness. Our childhoods can return to us within minutes if we drop the veil of guardedness which we have allowed ourselves to be enfolded in. Marty Rubin said, “Every summer, like the roses, childhood returns.” Let’s endeavour to make that happen in every season of the year.