The Perfection of Play

By now it would be clear to our readers that we are aspiring to bring back the wise learning from the Ancient Scriptures in the form of Toys. Strictly the “Toy” is not a comprehensive term to describe the scope of Krida. Toying along with Playing describes it bit better, and thus today’s post is more about playing and players.

What is common among athletes like Usain Bolt (greatest Sprinter of all time), Michael Phelps (touted as the greatest Swimmer ever), Serena Williams (Tennis), Sachin Tendulkar (Cricket) and Pele (Footballer)? Let me give a try, they have systematically developed perfection in using one or other senses (Indriya). If we simply watch them Playing, it’s mind-boggling. We adore them for their perfection in playing, some may even name them as God of that sport. Isn’t it the objective of our life too, to attain perfection into something? Now what this “something” means to one is very individual to oneself. People in general strive to figure it out during this short journey called life. We have people who figured it out very lately what they wanted to play in their life. On the other hand a large number of people have no idea about the direction they are heading to.

No matter how much perfection one achieve in training his/her body (working senses), it will be of no use than making some money, attaining fame and making a community proud, all of them are temporary! One can reap the real benefits by perfecting his/her life for the welfare of all the beings and thus serving the Supreme authority. It is clearly stated in Bhagavad Gita (3.42) that, “The senses are superior to the gross body, and superior to the senses is the mind. Beyond the mind is the intellect, and even beyond the intellect is the soul.”

इन्द्रियाणि पराण्याहुरिन्द्रियेभ्यः परं मनः ।
मनसस्तु परा बुद्धिर्यो बुद्धेः परतस्तु सः ॥ ३.४२ ॥

indriyāṇi parāṇyāhur indriyebhyaḥ paraṁ manaḥ
manasas tu parā buddhir yo buddheḥ paratas tu saḥ

So why to put so much efforts on perfecting inferior temporary things, when we are aware of superior options. Going by this verse, no matter what game we are playing at the gross level, if we put our intelligence to good work in the welfare of all the beings, those rewards and achievements are for ever. In revered scripture (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.6.24) Lord says to Sri Narada, “Intelligence engaged in My devotion cannot be thwarted at any time. Even at the time of creation, as well as at the time of annihilation, your remembrance will continue by My mercy.”

मतिर्मयि निबद्धेयं न विपद्येत कर्हिचित्
प्रजासर्गनिरोधेऽपि स्मृतिश्च मदनुग्रहात् ॥ १.६.२४ ॥

matir mayi nibaddheyaṁ na vipadyeta karhicit
prajā-sarga-nirodhe ’pi smṛtiś ca mad-anugrahāt

Now, isn’t this game of life worth playing for?

On your marks, get set, go!


Please note that this post is not meant to demote any type of sport. It is targeted to catch attention of young minds and parents towards what is considered as the epitome of perfect life as prescribed by time-tested scriptures. If someone is naturally inclined towards sports, there is no harm in pursuing it, but that interest should not be driven by mere fame and achievements of others (getting inspired is a different ball game altogether).

Kids India Toy Fair 2018 – Part2

In the Out of Our Minds book, Sir Ken Robinson elaborately explained about the “septic focus” of education system. He took the jovial example of his friend Dave visiting his doctor for a kidney problem due to heavy beer drinking. The doctor in turn advises him to change to spirits that will avoid more damages to his kidneys. In reply to Dave’s concern about spirit may cause cirrhosis of the liver, doctor said “But you haven’t come to see me about your liver, am concerned about your kidneys.”

It sounded like meeting someone from the same school of thoughts at Kids India 2018 (a yearly B2B toy fair) event held at Mumbai. There was a penal discussion from the experts of toy industry, and during the conversation there was a reference about Robotic toys, yes Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered toys. Evidently the people behind such business justified the need of such robotic toys to resolve the emotional needs of the kids of working parents. They had all the facts and figures from the sample surveyed among metro cities of India to support their claims. Conventional toys do not interact with the kid well and the digital devices that interact smartly (Smart Phones and Tablets) are making them addict. So here is the solution the world was waiting for, the AI powered toy. This robot will accompany the kid right from waking up in the morning to listen to their bedtime stories. In between they will play and robot will share the wise tips (powered by the great Internet) for the benefit of the child be it related to nutritional food to eat, education, life skills, behavior etc. Thus it will act like a companion and serve to whatever extent the emotional needs of a child. Nearly perfect solution for the super busy parents in need.

To me the whole concept of serving the emotional needs of a child at the advent of a robot looks fundamentally incorrect. But in this industrialized world of today everything sells if one can spend fortune on advertising. So here is the product that is invented to help your child get rid of Smart Phone, Tablet and TV (in short it will reduce their screen time) thus cater to their emotions and of course the intelligence too. All in all, this seems like happy ending for those in need, until one shifts focus from septic to holistic.

It may look great to see such sensitive social issues been addressed by advanced technological toys, but have we thought about the after effects of giving AI enabled toys to our children? Are we not giving our children to the robots? No doubt, the makers of these robo-toys are not fools to miss the safety aspects. There must be ample builtin safety features but then there were Child Locks in the age old TV sets and Kid Mode in most Smart Phones, did it help them? Of course not, the human being always outsmarts such technology be it the child on this side or the hackers on the other.

Hope this post evokes some serious thoughts about consequences of giving such hi-tech toys to kids.

Kids India Toy Fair 2018 – Part1

I was privileged to visit Kids India 2018, Mumbai a yearly B2B toy fair event. It attracts large number of toy manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, designers, educational institutes, franchisers, licensors, advertising and marketing agencies across the country with a handful of foreign nation stalls and persons. At fair, everything right from secure QR code scanned entry to food to loo was meticulously planned, each stall was dazzling with LED lights, toys from around the world and sales people networking tirelessly for making that great deal, it was a busy day for everyone. No wonder there has to be a stall for world’s largest toy maker befitting its grandeur, the Hasbro stall. Unlike all the other stalls those were open within the fair premises, this was fully enclosed and guarded with additional level of security and cameras. One has to disarm all the belongings including digital devices to view the things meant for kids playing. A limited number of visitors were permitted at a time, get toured by a dedicated representative throughout the Hasbro stall. Our batch was greeted by a young gentleman, and with little exchange about our profiles he started introducing their best selling range of toys, Transformers, Star Wars, Disney, My Little Pony, Baby Alive, NERF to name a few.

Among all them, the Baby Alive caught my attention, specially his reference about how their advanced nurturing dolls could interact with the child. There is whole range of these baby dolls such as dolls that will interact with the child to ask for noodles, ice-cream, sip water, paint nails etc. They play, they cry, they eat an drink, they even poop the eaten noodles, wet the diaper so the child has to change it. Well, this post is not meant to endorse Hasbro products, so I’m limiting the other finer details about Baby Alive but there is much more to it. There are lot of consumable items, and people generally are motivated to buy them separately. This is not about giving vent to exploiting tactics of toy companies, since each customer had made a conscious decision before the purchase. This is about praising the researchers and toy designers behind the success of Baby Alive. They have given lot of thought for designing each element of these dolls, so that a child enjoys nurturing it. Coming to the point, as per shastra, it is the inherent nature of human being to serve somehow or other to the Lord. As one’s consciousness elevates, his scope of serving grows from oneself to family to nation to all beings.

dāsa bhūtamidaṁ tasya jagatsthāvara jangamam
śhrīmannārāyaṇa swāmī jagatānprabhurīśhwaraḥ

The Supreme Lord Narayan is the controller and the Lord of the world. All moving and non-moving beings and entities in this creation are His servants.” – Padma Puran

This is really great to learn serving others at the very little age. Apart from having fun, if such mechanized and electronically operated dolls are expected to teach children to serve, than what to speak of their interaction with the younger siblings? Of course, all the children cannot have a little sibling but they can have little cousins or neighbors’ kids. Also, how many dolls one would need to teach each little thing about nurturing babies. Apart from babies, there are birds, animals, insects, plants, trees and huge list of elements comprising the mother nature to serve to. We will end up creating plastic babies, mommies & grannies, animals, things and may be an artificial toy city centered around a kid, that very few privileged can afford. Big companies are investing big time in identifying and exploiting such human psychologies at the cost of nature. If we the parents, the ultimate well-wisher of the child, dig deeper about their actual needs and bring a little change of mindset, we can provide even richer experience than these heavily marketed expensive toys, almost freely.

Somebody aptly summarized it into the famous proverb “It takes a village to raise a child“.

Perquisites of digital toying

By now it would be clear to our readers that we are aspiring to bring back the wise learning from the Ancient Scriptures in the form of Toys. Strictly the “Toy” is not a comprehensive term to describe the scope of Krida. In fact the meaning of “Toying” is in quite contrast to what it should be. Generally, “toying” is defined as “doing or considering something without seriousness” but actually playing with a toy is such a serious business.
We often fail to gauge the depth a child learns while playing with an object and that is the primary reason for our failure in selecting the perfect Toy for them. It is very easy to get convinced by marketing gimmicks of big toy making companies’ claims backed by paid child psychologists. In fact many parents have started to believe that giving that ergonomically designed, non-toxic, digital toy helps their young ones to learn (rhymes, numbers, phonics, whatever.) quickly. They are right in a way that a kid really learns it much faster by listening to that repeated circuit at the press of a button. As I said the learning is much deeper for children, so there are other things that we fail to observe. Along with toy’s primary function a child also learns that, (i) s/he is the controller, (ii) there is no need to obey anyone to learn something from them, (iii) there is no rhythm, i.e. I can do anything anytime, (iv) no big deal to appreciate the mother nature for beautiful flowers and singing of birds since the same thing is available at my will, whenever and wherever I want. The list can stretched as much as we dive deeper into the different learning dimensions a child explores simultaneously. Believe me after certain extent it becomes beyond our preoccupied mind to understand what a child understands with his little open mind.
Now we are not analyzing the after effects of each of these learning on a long run, that get so deep-rooted at this tender age that are too difficult to unlearn during the entire life time. Let’s discuss only one of them, probably the most important among the listed – rhythm. First we need to understand why a child will not learn a rhythm by playing with such electronic gadgets. There is rhythm everywhere in the nature, our ageing process is very rhythmic, coming and falling of milk-teeth, singing of cuckoo (koel) bird at the arrival of Vastanta Ritu (Spring), ripples in the water and spiral of the shell to name a few. And to witness them (thus learn something from mother nature) one needs to be in sync with that rhythm. Simply to watch the beauty of fireflies, you must visit them at Night. With the luxury of playing digital equipment at will, one loses the very taste for this beautiful gift of nature. This is a gradual process, that do no happen in a matter of couple of incidences. We can go on counting the drawbacks of not learning to be in rhythm, right from the personal habits like not going to the latrine in the morning, not following appointed time, difficulties in maintaining relationships, fails to observe natural wonders around us and ultimately unable to feel the presence of supreme being.
I’m keeping it up to the reader to think how a small change of replacing a digital equipment with yourself or their dear granny to sing rhymes, would make a difference. They will have to be in rhythm to make it happen, and that will make all the difference down the line.

Let there be a toy

What is a TOY, by the way? The Oxford dictionary defines a toy as “An object for a child to play with, typically a model or miniature replica of something.”

I would like to modify it a bit and say, Anything that can be used as an object to learn and simultaneously gives fun can be said a Toy. Almost every parent have this experience of how their young ones treat almost any object as a play thing. Be it a matchbox, kitchen utensils, garments, and even their virtual imaginary things, kids use it as a medium (resource) of joy at the same time they learn something that we (the grownup) usually fail to observe. So fundamentally there is no need to buy Toys, it has to be ‘made’ out of something, anything. Let us first understand the term “made”, we take it bit seriously and establish a giant factory at the cost of environment to manufacture tons of highly mechanized, sophisticated things that we call “Toys”. The same term means so simple to kids, that they can ‘make’ a Car out of a Matchbox just by dragging it on to the surface. In a moment, it gets converted into an Airplane and starts flying into the sky. It is us, the grownup (please observe the meaning, who has stopped growing anymore – no pun intended) likes to resemble every plaything as close to the reality as possible, so we think of paining the matchbox to look colorful, add wheels, make it of plastic so that it don’t get spoil in bad stormy weather!, have some electronic light and sound effect, remotely controlled etc. and there we kill the imagination of our otherwise genius child. S/he must have great imagination around the matchbox of an airplane that we could not think of because for us it’s the job of the Airbus and Boeing designers. The moment we replace the Matchbox with a ready made, out of the box Airplane toy, we are killing their imagination along with lot of other learning experiences.

Does it mean that, there should not be any toy? Fortunately, the answer is there is need of it. This will look contradictory to the what we just discussed of not having or purchasing out of the box toys. There are references of toys even in ancient times and revered scriptures. We have archeologists excavated toys that are thousands of years old found around the world from ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Indus Valley civilizations. The secret lies in making toys together, now please don’t complicate the meaning of “making toys”, it can be as simple as acting like you are a bus driver and you kid is sitting in it, or making a paper airplane. Don’t underestimate yourself as a parent, no need to visit every activity workshop, parenting seminars, child psychology readings, not even follow our blogs, there will be lot many things to learn even while making a paper airplane, for both of you.

The wise thing to do is knowing what is being served to these little kids on the name of toys and what it should be. A toy must have a learning component. Learning can be anything, as per the age, interest and grasping capacity of the child, it can be sensing the surface of the object, it can be the sound produced while dropping the object, its color, its taste, what its shape resembles to a particular child, how it can be disassembled or opened, the list can be endless. It should spark curiosity into the mind and allow to build some imagination for how to use it? There should not be a structured way to play with a toy, yes playing games are different things, they have rules. There was no need to stress this much on explaining as simple thing as a toy. Unfortunately we are living in a time when we have best selling books on How to Win Friends & Influence People!, so I have to write on a toy too.