I grew up in a house full of children. We had brats of all ages , in fact, the age difference between me and my eldest cousins spans well over 15 years. We ate together, played together and even got reprimanded as a group . I was the youngest of a huge lot so its safe to say that in case we all got lost, I would be the last one they would come looking for.
Although I always had company, I would often find myself playing alone. I’d dance for hours in front of the mirror (in complete awe of my agile, smooth dance steps) , play pretend games in which I portrayed varied roles ranging from overworked housewife, chef-cum-waiter-cum-guest at my one-man restaurant, troubled teacher,creepy college student and sometimes random people like a parking lot ticket distributor too. (I am not too proud of it)
I started loving my pretend games so much that I played them every chance I got, on the toilet seat too.One day I was an acclaimed singer being interviewed on the pot and another day I was a popular star who was an inspiration for the whole nation.I not just had invisible friends, I had an invisible crowd around me! From invisible paparazzi to invisible fans, I had an imaginary crew that came with me wherever I went.
I vividly remember this one time when I had just watched the movie ‘Mission Kashmir’ and found a fresh vigor in me to be a soldier in the army. In my mind, I had already started training with my imaginary instructor under ‘harsh conditions’. For the longest time after that, I used the Indian style toilet that was more soldier-like as opposed to the ‘luxurious’ western commode!!
I know you’re probably thinking that I was quite a freak but really, I was just being a child. These imaginary games and characters that I played were part of a balancing process that helped me cope in a big family where it was very easy to lose your individuality. My mother could never make time for me because of the endless chores of a joint family. So that meant no playdates at the park or exclusive ‘mommy-daughter’ time. So my invisible friends gave me solace and company along with being non judgmental about my creativity.
They were in essence, a manifestation of my reality- my mind’s way of getting me ready for the world. They helped me cope my curelessly dark adolescent years when I had so many questions that I was too afraid to ask. My imaginary world gave me a ‘happy place’ that was entirely mine and something that I didn’t have to share with anyone. These ‘friends’ were always there for me and they always needed me no matter what. This helped me forget my insecurities and made me a person who was not fearful of being alone.
I truly believe that I am much more comfortable in my own shoes because of these imaginary characters that I conjured up. It helped me become a good company for my own self and as a result I can easily go out for lunch or shopping alone even today.
But where is the time for creative play in this ‘information overload’ age that our kids are born into? How can they invent healthy coping mechanisms such as these when they are drowning themselves in their video games and smartphones that do nothing but pull them further into the darkness? Even though our kids have smaller families and personalized attention, why is it that they are still so insecure?
The kids today are always expected to be doing something. If it’s not their homework, then it’s something else that needs ‘excelling’ like music or sport. There’s no mindspace or time left for them to work on their issues in a healthy way. We’re so busy making our kids engineers, mathematicians and all-rounders that we forget to give them a chance to discover their real personality. In our efforts to expose and excite them, we have ended up making half-baked individuals who are forever restless and never content.
I hope M does not need invisible friends to feel secure but if she does, I wish her imaginary world is full of beautiful people and boundless opportunities. And like me, I hope it makes her believe that she can do whatever she sets her heart on.
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