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Held to ransom by a Beyblade
He trades off homework, healthy food for a rebranded spinning top.
There is an underworld toy mafia that reigns over parents. The key dons are little boys and girls, spurred on by a host of suspiciously amiable toy shop salesmen whose favourite words are 'China se maal fresh aya hai'. Suddenly, what used to be a simple spinning top or a two-bit rubber band, is reappearing in a repackaged branded avatar, coated with some shiny substance that is most definitely toxic or contains lead, and will eventually mutate us all - starting with the parents of course. But that is hardly going to stop the babalog extortion racket. I discovered recently, thanks to my little boy and his fellowextortionists, that the latest objects of affection among eight and nine year olds are two intriguing thingies called 'Beyblades' and 'Silly Bands'. For those who are not part of the world of the little people, Beyblades are essentially spinning tops - which were once innocent hand-made wooden toys that could be bought for the princely sum of five rupees. But nothing in life is simple any more. They have been rebranded in a ghoulish avatar with names akin to American warplanes, crafted in some sweat shop in China, and now go for two hundred to four hundred rupees. The top is no longer merely a top, but some larger toy conspiracy that takes over your life - complete with 'metal fusion' websites where you learn to kill each other through Beyblade battles, and television shows that do the same in some endless horrifying nightmare. You probe a bit and find out that Beyblades came out of a Japanese animation series about a group of kids who form teams with which they battle one another using these highly powerful spinning tops which are enchanted with magical spirits. The series was then licensed, bought by an American media company, and dubbed in English, obviously after which Beyblades proceeded to take over the world.
You are forced to watch helplessly as your child and the shopkeeper (at perfectly innocent-sounding shops like Komal Collections and Manoj Stores) exchange notes about the latest 'model'. Has Storm Pegasus come out? Which is better - Tornado Wing or Saggitario. The Beyblade model names blithely slip off the tongue of the toy shop salesman as if he were saying 'ludo'. Your child picks at least two. As you watch with dismay, the giant con job unfolding before you, the shopkeeper slyly produces the 'arena' - an ugly plastic contraption that resembles a baby training potty in which the children fight their spinning top battles. Wow.
Another seven hundred rupees down. Chalo, since you are buying twinsets, I will give you fifty off, the shopkeeper winks at you and you resign yourself to the fact that at least your kid promised to eat a banana every morning in return for this bribe. For, the little extortionists have mastered the art of negotiation. "I will do my home work only after you get me Strata Dragoon. " Yikes!
The slightly less offensive craze is the Silly Bands. A Silly Band is basically the latest avatar in another old favourite plaything - the old rubberband. In this case, groups of rubberbands have been fashioned into various shapes and packaged in neat little groups with titles. So the 'safari' silly bands will have rubber bands that come in the shapes of hedgehogs and tigers and the 'commodity' silly bands will have hanger and irons. Ninety rupees a pop. The children wear them to school on their wrists and exchange them with each other, making and breaking friendships. The other day, a building kid went home and told his mom that my son was the kindest person he knew because he had parted with three rare silly bands - shaped as hedgehog, helicopter and hat. The sheer power of rubberbands revisited actually made me smile.
I had to do the rounds of at least three toy shops across the city with my son, only to keep finding that the much-coveted Beyblade arena was out of stock - (and therefore bananas would not be eaten) - until I finally found an old toy shop that had one last piece, with which I secured my son's nutritional requirements. That is, until the next little thingy comes along. And knowing the nature of the predatory toy extortionists, it won't be very long!
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