If I ever have the nerve to ask any one of my teenaged nephews or niece if they know how to make balls or whistles out of coconut leaflets, they would all probably impatiently thumb on the pause button on their PSP's or Nintendo DS's and then turn to me with that quizzical look in their eyes and the same unspoken question on their lips. "Why should we have to? Why bother?"
Why bother indeed?
When I was about twelve or so and on summer vacation from school in the city, I was playing with friends one hot afternoon in the backyard of the family house here in Lianga when we saw one of my mother's young house helpers sitting underneath one of the coconut trees in the yard with a bunch of coconut leaflets on her lap she had stripped off a whole frond which lay nearby. She was a fresh faced girl of about eighteen who had grown up in my grandfather's small village not far from town.
We watched her, mesmerized by the dexterity of her fingers as she meshed the leaf strips together, twisting one over and underneath one another until in what seemed like just a few seconds she had magically fashioned a small ball, actually a cube with rounded corners, which she then tossed over to us to play with. Entranced, I sat down beside her as she started coiling one long leaf strip like a snake into a cone, stuck small leaf cuttings into the narrow end, tied up the cone with string to prevent it from unraveling and, in a jiffy, presented me with a whistle horn which gave off a vibrating, high pitched squeal when I blew on it.
My friends and I spent the rest of that afternoon with her. From the whistle horn, we progressed to noisemakers me could twirl above our heads making a loud, out of this world, quavering wail, to frilly birds which flapped their wings and small crossbows that shot out tiny, toy arrows. All were made of coconut leaflet strips and the thin yet strong and flexible midrib that run through their center. It is this midrib which gives the entire leaflet and the entire coconut frond its support and characteristic form .
She tried to teach me how to make all of those things but I was, even as a child, never artistically inclined or manually dexterous. I eventually got muddled and confused but even today I can still whip up a creditable ball or whistle upon demand albeit after maybe a couple of false starts. Yet the fun I had that afternoon was of the magical kind, the kind whose memories and images have stubbornly lingered over the long years as part of the collective reminiscences of my childhood.
You see, just like my niece and nephews, I am not adverse to slaying virtual monsters, fighting digital foes or immersing myself in virtual worlds on portable game consoles or on the computer. I too like the adrenaline rush of simulated combat amidst the eye popping graphics and heart thumping sound effects on today's game machines.
But what does one do when these electronic marvels are are not available or can't be had. Can one still have real fun?
"Live would be so boooooring," a nephew of mine blurted out, his eyes showing a hint of alarm at the very thought of not being able to go digital. I could only smile and sympathize with him.
But there was indeed a time, not so long ago, when just a couple of coconut leaflets, nimble hands and loads and loads of imagination can open a gateway to a world of truly real and tangible fun. The kind of fun that was exceeding more interactive and multi-player capable than any computer game my nephew could have imagined. Fun that you can actually touch, feel, hear and see in front of you.
But then, I fear he would never be able to truly appreciate all that even if I had the gift to be able to describe it all clearly. In one sense, I will have to speak of things from another time and place, of things that have passed and never will be again. My nephew and his kind are of this computer enhanced, digitalized time and age and he will probably never truly be able understand my perspective.
That unfortunately, in my view, is one of the tragedies of these modern times.