With each Pahela Baishakh knocking at the door, it becomes irresistible to undertake a journey down the memory lane. For one who was born in a village and had spent the early years there, the sights and sounds, the simple ways of life and innocence of childhoods and the discovery of many wonders of Nature cannot but be a source of delight. The freedom of childhood in those days cannot be bought by millions of taka.
All the seasons appeared in their distinct outfits and with a difference from each other. Children waited for the Chaitra Sangkranti and Pahela Baishakh expectantly mostly because of the village fairs. There were too many of those fairs for the whole month of Baishakh. One or two even staggered to the month of Jaisthya. If one was scheduled to be held today (some for 2-7 days) in a certain village, another would be arranged in another village and the process continued. Yet not all the village fairs in a wide rural area were large and drew crowds in the same measure. The more famous of them pulled people from all across a thana or even far beyond.
However, it was the inaugural fairs held on Chaitra Sangkranti and Pahela Baishakh that really attracted visitors from far and wide rural settings. For children, it was a great occasion and they made their special preparation for the fairs. They saved money ---in those days usually coins---and even engaged in amateurish agricultural labour such as weeding in crop fields in order to earn some money to be spent at the fairs. They made plans for owning their most coveted articles.
What these articles were can indeed explain the difference between today's children and those of yester years. An indigenous knife used for peeling mangoes would bring the joys even King Solomon's riches would fail to do. A tiny tin whistle, a cheap bamboo flute, a blower also made of bamboo but fixed with a balloon at the opposite tip to the blowing tip, an ingenious contraption with two small flat ruler-like bamboo handles fixed with strings with a replica of a palm-leave gymnast attached in between the two rulers, a clay doll, a kite etc; would make the list of a prized possession for a boy. Girls usually had their focus on bangles, lace and cosmetics---their choice of articles not changing much over the decades.
Of the list of preference boys made then, at least two of the articles warrant elaboration. First, the blower with a balloon. The balloon got inflated with air that was blown into it with mouth from the blowing end. Blowing completed, the device was removed from mouth. The blower now made sound like a mini vuvujela. The palm-leaf gymnast, on the other hand, started performing unimaginable feats with the controlling of the two bamboo handles. Like a gymnast it rotated its whole body round and crafted different calisthenics with ease.
So far as preference for dolls is concerned, girls usually looked for both clay and cheap plastic dolls unlike today's Barbie dolls. The mechanised dolls driven by battery power were unimaginable then. A few prototypes of cars or jeeps were available but they had to be given a shove for their movement to a certain distance. However, boys unlike girls usually preferred colourful clay dogs, horses, elephants, tigers and lions. Both of them, however, liked clay birds such as doves and parrots. Two other sought-after items, a 'dhol' or 'dholok' (drum) a prototype of the musical instrument of the same name and mouth organ were also only boys' preserve. Clearly boys had wider choices than girls.
One thing is particularly remarkable in case of all such toys. They were simple and cheap unlike the ones driven by battery power of today and capable of many tricks. But their plus point was beauty in simplicity. Not only did those toys connect the young ones to the natural world but also incited their imagination to the extent where they momentarily immersed themselves in a world of their own. There was every chance that the world of fantasy or fairy tale they were transposed to whetted their appetite for becoming better human beings and creating a beautiful world.