There are two important rituals associated with kiddie birthday parties
a) handing over the gift at the start of the party
b) demanding the return gift at the end of the party
Teaching a six year old to say 'thank you' instead of grabbing the gift from outstretched hands is quite a task. Selecting an appropriate return gift is equally bothersome.
More so if you're in south Bombay, of course, where the gifts are designed more to impress the moms than the birthday child's friends. So you not only have to have jugglers/ magicians/ clowns-on-hire but also 'unique' return presents. Such as handmade caps with the names of all 40 kids invited to the party embroidered on them.
Why 40? Because every child in the birthday boy/ girl's class - along with respective maids/ mothers - must be on the guest list. Never mind the chaos!
Cake n chips
Things are a lot more 'normal' in my part of town. Good old middle class Vashi. We believe in the ekdum regular return gifts such as pencil boxes and lunch boxes.
Magar this year the friendly shopkeeper at 'Anil Plastics', my one-stop 'party supplies' shop whipped out something new: 'Beyblades'.And yes, when those kids ripped open their gifts, suddenly, I was the coolest mom on Planet Earth.
So who or what is a Beyblade? Well, it's just a fancy name for one of the most ancient toys known to mankind: the spinning top. The Beyblade comes with a 'rip cord' which allows you to launch it at a phenomenal speed as well.
I remember playing with something similar when we were kids. Of course, it's a lot more 'exciting' in this new avatar - and backed by a TV series as well. Cartoon Network India has authorised Funskool to retail 'beyblades' based on the show's characters. Priced between Rs 149-349, 100,000 units have already flown off the shelves...
Now of course what I bought was not the 'real' beyblade - it was a Chinese rip-off costing 30 bucks. But it works pretty well.
There are actually a large number of variations - even in the 'official' beyblade series - with names like 'Wolborg', 'Dranzer' and 'Dragoon Fighter'. Successful kid fads are always collectibles. That keeps interest alive - and the cash registers ringing.
The most recent such craze was, of course, Pokemon cards. But I remember my brother collecting similar cards for racing cars, and cricketers. And when I was really tiny I had an impressive collection of little animals which came free with Cibaca/ Binaca toothpaste...
The right collectible can hugely drive kiddie product sales. At my chachaji's wedding I recall we were the baraatis who ordered Gold Spot after Gold Spot. The drink lay untouched while we kids fought over the Jungle Book 'crown caps'!
Aside: Some of us even fantasised how nice it would be to work as a waiter ... Uske paas kitne crown caps hote honge!
Coming back to beyblades - one of the potato chip companies is already on the bandwagon. They have a little top you can assemble out of 4 cardboard pieces with excellent spinning capability.
If they're smart, the cornflakes, soft drinks and chocolate companies will soon follow!
Bottomline: Kids aren't inherently couch potatos or mouse potatos. They do enjoy physical sport/ activity. The challenge is to re-package all the classic children's games and sports in a manner that appears modern and cool.
It's all about capturing their imagination. Both Harry Potter - which revived interest in books, and Beyblades - which have made a rage out of the simple spinning top - prove that!