Pipi Longstockings sits with her long legs stretched out with fat sagging Garfield (too many spin cycles in the washing machines) by her side, staring happily at the world. These two are the only toys I have had in my entire life and naturally, am possessive about them. But unlike R, whose love affair with dolls and toys started as is normal, in childhood, I got my first toy, a Garfield on my 17th birthday given to me by a class mate. The idea of owning a soft toy till then was a silly one, to me. Not to say I didn't admire them and rushed to cuddle them when I could lay my hands on any. But to actually possess one. Whatever does one do after you have cuddled it a few times?
Pipi, my other acquisition, was a present from A, my newly wedded husband. He got it from Stockholm on one of his frequent business trips. (Incidentally, the French version is called Fifi since Pipi in french means "piss")!
As a kid, I rarely ever played with dolls. I don't think I owned one or if I did, those were given to me by people who thought it was the easiest gift to give to a 'girl'-child, much as we settle for an aftershave or ties for male cousins or friends. R on the other hand, had so many dolls and assorted paraphernalia...dolls tea sets, dolls clothes and what not. But I had none. Why? Did I opt for non-doll toys? As far as I can remember, whenever Baba and ma went out for the evening, they'd return with a doll for R and a book for me, always a book, a gift I very happily waited for and spent many a happy evening with my nanny, knowing that though ma was going out, there'd be a book for me at the end of it. But we are not talking about books here. Dolls it is. Why didn't I even one? I played with R and her dolls but always as a sidekick! I was the doctor who suggested painting spots using nail polish on her dolls - duli, cookie and Mimi! They were suffering from chicken pox after all. I was the one who made a whole in the head of the boy doll (these were the ones made of thin molded plastic without detachable heads and limbs) and put in some marbles (he had accidentally swallowed them) and cured him by simply turning him over so that the marbles fell out.
R was so attached to her dolls that her baby cot would be cramped with all of them. And she kept them, lovingly tending to them even when they had lost limbs and only the body and head remained. Once while travelling with a grouchy Uncle, I and R had a mini-tiff (often vicious whacks and pinches), and I coolly threw out limbless Mimi out of the window and felt very smug but as we sped farther and farther away, my guilt increased and so I told Uncle in a very small voice that a doll had fallen out. Imagine his disgust when he had to stop, go way back and retrieve a limbless, cheap plastic doll and what's more not being able to say a word about it since we were, after all, children of a colleague.
During Christmas in the small oil town where we lived, a Santa would come riding on a fire engine clanging the bell and dole out gifts to all kids who would assemble in a large hall inside the club house. The gifts would have been suggested by and paid for by the respective parents. I went to this only once and was very disappointed when both R and I received dolls. R, later in a fit of rage threw mine out of the window where it landed in the gutter and lay forgotten till baba brought it in one day holding it at arms length by its pony tail!
Apart from these, I can't seem to remember anything else about dolls. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my parents decided that dolls were not for me? Its true I loved reading and didn't make any fuss about not having any dolls. But then I wasn't given any dolls to play with. Those were for R. I got books and more books. By the time we left Assam to go to Bhubaneswar, baba had to make a large wooden crate to fit my books. And I was only 10.
After my doll-less childhood, in this ripe old age, okay, middle age, I have two and even though I don't keep them with me or tend to them (R bathes them periodically, dries them, puts them to sleep at night and covers them with tiny blankets, yes she does and sits them up in the morning), they are very precious possessions of mine. I make sure no kid gets his/her adorable grubby paws on them and Garfield at least, is such a magnet for one and all. Whenever a kid visits us, I rush and put them both on top of a wardrobe and warn my mother not to give it them, even if only to play!
Psychiatrists and psychologists, you have a new angle. Now you can add the absence of a doll figure in childhood to your list of possibile causes to a host of ills, imaginary or otherwise!