The toy story

In an obscure corner of the old bazaar in my hill town, the huge signboard outside Uncle Kareem's shop: ‘Best wooden toys in town’ is still recognizable despite the nibbling rust and a few missing letters. He still lifts open the shutter on some mornings, waiting patiently for his first customers. Usually, there are none.

But it wasn’t always like this. There were days when Uncle Kareem’s shop floor was palpitating with the click-clicking of excited school children’s shoes, their eyes swollen into mesmerized O’s at the sight of freshly painted toys coming out of his workshop. Among his best creations were galloping horses and fragile dolls.

A particular favourite was a drummer boy that sprang to life the second you wound up its key. These toys were chiselled out of ordinary timber lumbered from the nearby woods.

  Yet they managed to generate enough excitement around dinner tables at night with almost every child in the town being promised a toy of his choice if he passed his exams.
Since many children owned similar toys, an unspoken camaraderie ran through all the toy yards in the town, manifesting itself in the simplest of communications: boys huddling on monkey bars to discuss the latest designs, girls examining the feasibility of sipping real tea in their paisa sized, wooden cups.

On many a lazy summer afternoon, he even let them into his work sanctuary, the workshop. Some left with custom made toys if they managed to impress him with their carpentry skills. Parents gave no fee for these sessions, and he never asked for anything.
Then somewhere between the eager visits to the shop and the carpentry lessons, his spell just faded. Someone’s aunt sent a beautiful plastic miniature of a girl wrapped in a shiny pink box from the city.

She enchanted everyone with her blonde hair, delicate features, and the satiny gown. The wooden toys suddenly seemed like bony, ugly fossils.

Upon harassing requests from other children, many more toys were lugged back from the city. Very soon many fancy toy shops came to the slumbering town itself, picking up on the scent of prospective business in a virgin territory, spawning drummer boys playing louder and horses galloping faster.

With each passing day then, all dinner table conversations were hijacked by this new brigade of plastic toys. Children came to the monkey bars to either boast of their latest acquisitions or to fight over them. The afternoon carpentry lessons had few takers, and, the click-clicking on the shop floor finally died down.

Reminiscing Uncle Kareem’s legacy leaves me sad. He does not feel the same anymore, though. A failing memory makes him oblivious to any such loss. But there must be times when it all comes back, much like the rusted drummer boy in his workshop that now only awakens months after you wind its key. Those moments surely must be his liveliest ones.

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