Tuesday, 6 September 2011

THE BEST PLAYGROUND OF ALL.

What was your favourite place to play when you were a child? For me, it was a tract of undeveloped land on a residential school compound. Armed with only my imagination, I spent many happy recesses and hours after school exploring it. In my mind, it became everything from Sherwood Forest to an alien planet. It also helped me fend off my chronic homesickness.

From Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), here's an excerpt that tells how we lost that marvellous play area due to government officials and their uninformed idea of what sort of recreation we would enjoy.

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During my time at Jericho, I fell in love with the small forest behind the classrooms and the plain above it. Whenever I played in that undeveloped area, I felt free from the supervisors and their judgmental scrutiny. That natural wonderland became my refuge. Therefore, I felt absolutely horrified when I saw what had happened to it. Landscapers had ripped it up and put in sidewalks and shrubs. Worse yet, the grownups admonished everybody not to play in the shrubbery and to keep to the sidewalks. The plain above the school, once a wild mix of boulders and mud, now had sod, a cinder track for running, and a path for walking.

Other unwelcome changes took place too. The strip of lawn, which we used for soccer, was also gone from behind the school. Dirty grey sand and a few large rocks were spread in its place. A set of swings and teeter-totters were erected by the grade two classroom. Next to it, a pyramid-shaped wooden structure with a built-in slide had been constructed. Behind the Music Room a concrete bunker had been built. It had an open door on the lower level and a hole in the ceiling with a metal ladder going up to the roof. This was level with a sidewalk and a wall ran around the top of the edifice to prevent children from falling off.

Though playground equipment was installed, its novelty soon wore off. In fact, some boys only used the bunker as a convenient place to urinate. While we did play reluctantly on the new equipment, it was highly inferior to the natural playground we had lost.

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Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief.