Years back, I heard a great song sung by the incomparable singer, Cat Stevens. Well, he was known by the same, Cat Stevens in those days. One of the songs that stayed in my list of all time favorites, was “Where Do The Children Play?” Now, this sort of entry applies strictly to Indian conditions, and not really to countries all around the world. However, s some of what I say apply to many countries around the world. We are a country of 1.2 billion people, and that is a lot of people. However, when you look at our record in the international sports arena, our record is not that great. Why is this so?
One factor, definitely, is the fact that we simply don’t create the infrastructure for sports across the country. Sports facilities sprout up sporadically from time to time, promise great things, and simply don’t deliver. Changing rooms stink, and there is no place for parents to sit and watch while their kids play. A swimming coach that I know walks around with a stick in his hand, urging the kids to swim more and more and more. Somewhere down the line, he seems to have forgotten that you can practice the wrong thing till your bones ache, and all that will happen is that you will become a bad swimmer who swims a lot!
There is a complete financial disincentive to get into any sports but cricket, where the rewards given to a bunch of mediocre players far outweighs their actual sporting talent. People who have come up in other fields of sporting activity get a small mention in the press and are forgotten quickly, buried under the avalanche that is cricket. Cricket is an expensive, elite sport, controlled by fat men with deep pockets and an insatiable desire for deeper pockets.
Finally, there is the wonderful culture in our country, where kids have to get 99% in their final exams to have a ghost of a chance of getting into the pitifully small number of colleges that we have. Rote seems to have taken the place of genuine learning. I interviewed a kid, who was applying for management studies. A freshly minted metallurgical engineer, the poor fellow had the bad luck to be interviewed by me! I am a metallurgical engineer, and this rather pathetic specimen of academia simply did not understand the basics of cooling curves or the iron-carbon diagram. I turned to the professors and asked – “What’s up? Is this the kind of person who we intend to give admission to?” Thankfully, we booted him out. I asked them further, that if this was the quality of people we were going to be sending out into the world, then we need to shudder for the future for our planet.
So, where do the children play? Do they play in corridors of their mind? Play, in my opinion, is absolutely necessary for the development of the mind. It seems, proper physical and mental activity help to slow down, possibly arrest, decline in old age. If I remember well, Bertrand Russell did mention that we age when we stop working. I would even say that we don’t develop our brains if we don’t play. I am not referring to the games on tablets and smart phones. I am talking about actual sports, played in the playing field. Apart from developing our bodies, our sense of coordination, and helping our blood flow; team sports helps us learn to interact in teams. This is a critical trait that is required in all walks of life.
The monkeys do have the time to play. They play in their natural environment. Maybe, it is time we allowed our children to play.