As ignorant as I was as a kid, I quite enjoyed the holidays on ‘Nepal Bandhas’ while treacherous things happened outside the Kathmandu Valley at the peak of the Maoist insurgency. My parents would happily let me go outside and ride my tiny cycle on the main roads of Sorakhutte. The roads weren't as wide as it is now but riding on the road where cars and motorbikes fizzed past me was a big deal for me. On a usual day, there was always the fear of being hit and run by passing by bikes and cars, but not on this day, not on Nepal Bandhas.
It was a different kind of joyous moment for my playful neighbours. The elder brothers would bring out the cricket bat and tennis ball, and put a chair on two ends of the road. They would play cricket on the narrow streets of the capital city and their loud voices could be heard in the silence of noon. They would play from sunrise to sunset but occasionally had their game cut short after smashing a neighbors’ window. Then they would have to find another street to play.
As I grew older, I travelled to my friend’s house in Kalanki where an alley led to his house. At noon and in the afternoons, we played football and knocked down bricks and counted them as a goal. Every other month, I observed that new houses were being built. When I first went to my friend's house, I could see the main roads from the roof of his house. But now, his once naturally well-lit room is but a cold dark cave. The other houses assured that no ray of sunlight reaches his room. The narrow alley where we once played football is now a menace to play since there's a parked motorbike in front of every home.
Now, there is almost no open ground where I can go and play. I sometimes go to Narayan Chaur to meet up with my friends in the evening but they don’t let you play football there. To get there, I often have to travel on the tar-pitched roads sharing the roads with fuming vehicles. Maybe an open public area somewhere closer to home would have motivated me to get out in the mornings and get some exercise. I can always exercise at home but for me, exercise has to be fun, else I relapse and choose an extra hour of sleep over an hour of physical activity. I remember fondly growing up in a hostel where we had ample ground to play. There is a different kind of joy in coming together to get dirty playing in puddles of mud in the pouring rain. Now, I can only reminiscence on the good old days.
I think and wonder that perhaps more people would pay attention to nature if they knew that their right to play has been taken away. The adult generation often claim that kids these days are stuck on their mobile phones but where do the children play? My father sometimes tells me stories of how he used to swim in the Trishuli river and catch snakes in Swoyambhu. I don’t think kids do these kinds of things anymore or are even vaguely interested to do so. Back then when we didn’t have gadgets to play with, we played hop-scotch by drawing lines on soil with twigs. To play the same game now, we have to draw it with chalk over concrete in the parking lots.
When we stop going out to play, we do not learn the realities of the natural world. Reality hides in the plain sight of comfort. If we want the kids to care about what happens tomorrow, we should let them go out and discover that joy is real when you share it--that we share this planet with not just with humans but all living beings. It would be wise to give them an opportunity to walk barefoot over fresh green grass. Maybe they’ll encounter a beetle or an earthworm and make them curious about life the way a falling apple intrigued Newton.
The lack of space where I stay is saddening. Days often go by when I don’t see a patch of green. We sit back and believe that this is the new normal but civilization is taking away so much space and leaving no room to play.
We can only hope that the children today will get more chance to enjoy their youth and simply play.