Arup Gupta

Unknown | 5/09/2014 |
The 99 Paisa Inspiration (Niranobboier Dhakka)

When I was a child growing up in South Kolkata near Ekdalia Park, toys were typically not encouraged in my house - we did not have the disposable income to make toy purchases a priority in my extended family. I used to play with hand me down toys, those belonging to my best friend who had a toy train set from London that used to make it's appearance from time to time by his elder brother on Sundays - those were times of immense enjoyment and wonderment. 

Most of our play time were consumed by games in the small open lot opposite our home behind my best friend's house - Cricket and Badminton in winter; marbles, danguli (gilli and danda) and soccer in summer and monsoon.....My friend had a wide tire bike from London which we used to take turn to ride up and down the footpath. Later in life my dad's 20 year old adult bike got repaired at the bike shop opposite Ekdalia Park and gave me wheels to go around. 

During the summer holidays, my aunt used to visit from Siliguri. I remember going out with my two younger cousins, my aunt and my mother to Gariahat sometimes for shopping clothes. I had least interest in those trips other than looking for new toys being sold on the pavements or visiting children's book stores. Toys always fascinated me mainly from a mechanical standpoint. Some toys worked quite well. I remember the tin constructed boat that ran on a wick and lamp with oil in a small aluminum bathtub.

The construction of these boats was not great and my investigations came to an end when, one day, I ended up with a big gash on my finger.

Other toys that were part of my life were helicopters - the rotating blades always fascinated me. One day I lost the keys in the playground at my maternal uncle’s house. 

I remember my Mama offering to pay one Rupee to whoever found the keys and very soon the keys were found....

There was a small toy and sweet shop near my house that sold toy rockets. At that time, rockets were being sent into space and a toy rocket captured my imagination. It was not very cheap - I think it was more than Rs.6 – a substantial sum in those days. So every time I passed by that shop I used to think of ways to buy it. Then one day I remember throwing a tantrum - my mother was very embarrassed because some close relatives actually saw us. After coming back home, she set a high goal for my academic achievements as the only condition for getting the rocket. Which I did, and the rocket came home: But it was a disappointment. It didn’t fly as high as I thought it would. I felt I had let my Mother down.

After those early days my father was transferred to Darjeeling for a few years. My toy fetish continued. And it was in Darjeeling that I started discovering the spirit of toy building.....

My Uncle from London had brought a Meccano set and I started building airplanes and battleships.

In fact I was able to combine a few sets that my other cousins were bored with and built things that were not possible with only one set, which kept me busy for hours.

The other area of exploration was the balsa plane gliders. A friend of mine and the school craft shop allowed me to cut out parts and build parts that flew long paths for these gliders.

Then, one day, a friend of mine showed me a copy of Kishor Bharati that carried detailed instructions for building a electromechanical telegraph:

We spent hours finding the solution, learning the Morse code and setting up a dot-dash system to go from my apartment to his.

After about 3 years, my father was transferred back to Kolkata. One day we were walking up and down Gariahat when I saw a street vendor selling parachutes. I wanted the toy desperately.

But my father said “No” even though it was less than a Rupee at 99 paisa. I was not sure if he thought I had too many liberties, or it was not a good day; but he stuck to his decision. My ability to persuade him vanished and for a day or so I was not happy.

A couple of days later I went and asked my Mom if she had a square piece of cloth....she actually gave me a green silk handkerchief.........I went to the market, bought some twine and used a cut candle to pull out the wick to form a homemade parachute.

And once I dropped it from the third floor of our home, it floated down in a slow deliberate manner.....no spins, no turbulence....plain sailing.....
My purpose in life had been fulfilled.....from then on, I have tried to take every “No” in my life to build my next “parachute”.


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