Xylophones, toys and the consumer culture : Who do toys serve?

I have really struggled a lot to come up with a topic for X and the only thing which seems to come up is Xylophone, my daughter’s toy. My husband challenged me to write something on that topic, so here goes.

Migu’s xylophone is quite a special toy, inasmuch that it was the first toy she demanded for herself. She was about 13 months old, and we were in one of the small shops in Channapatna (a small town on the way from Bangalore to Mysore, which is famous for its wooden toys). Some other kids were playing with the xylophone, and she saw it, and though she could not speak much at that time, she somehow communicated that she wanted it to us. Although the toy was supposedly for over three years, and my husband particularly follows these instructions with toys, we still went ahead and bought it, because, as I said, she had asked for it in a very nice way.

We havent had too many experiences buying toys for Migu, since most of her toys have been gifts. The few times we have gone shopping, I have been quite appalled by the price of toys. And rather disturbed by the battery operated, sound and noise producing toys, which seem to the only things in the market. Whether you go to a high end branded store, or to the platforms, most toys are just seem to make a lot of noise, the branded ones probably make a slightly more tasteful noise.

The xylophone of course produces quite tasteful noise only, it is one of those instruments you cannot play badly. Migu does not really play it with its traditional stick. She uses any random stick which comes her way. The other day, she even drove her toy car over the instrument, and it produced quite nice music. The xylophone also helped her get comfortable pronouncing more complex words because we would always refer to it by name in front of her, and she picked it up quite well by imitation and from then on has had little trouble picking up complex words. She may not say it perfectly, but she makes a fairly good attempt, and what is more, is not frightened away by the word. Her own name, Mrignayanee, can be quite a mouthful, but she has re-christened herself Mignaangi.

On a more general note, I really didnt see most of the toys in the market holding a childs attention for long, and at least as far as Migu was concerned, they didnt really excite her. For a long time, the only things which excited her were balls and boxes. Even now, she is more fond of balls, books (which should deal with animals) and animals than anything else. I have tried to interest her in building blocks, puzzles and other stuff, but they dont claim her attention in a natural way.

I will soon have to pack some of Migu’s toys as I leave for an extended stay at my mom’s place (for a month and a half). As I look at stuff and their usage patterns and decide how much I can carry, given the baggage restrictions, I again begin to wonder at our consumer culture. All her toys seem very attractive and I want to carry them, and argue that the child will get bored and need these toys. But I know that she is more than capable of managing herself with whatever few toys we may eventually take. The question pops in my head : who are those toys for, her or me?

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