Tears streaming down her cheeks, my five-year old granddaughter walked up to me holding a creased sheet of paper in one hand and a few crayons in the other. Between sobs, I managed to put together her tale of woe and the ‘gross injustice’ done to her by her little brother, who had ‘cruelly sabotaged’ the picture she was drawing for her grandmother’s birthday.

Putting the little girl on my knee, I began consoling her while unconsciously folding and refolding the paper, until a squeal of childish pleasure made me realise that I was holding a tulip-like paper flower in my hands.

While my granddaughter, her face beaming with happiness, skipped out of the door waving her newly-acquired toy, I drifted into a nostalgic reverie, where a gentle woman with an ever present smile, sat in a rain shrouded verandah, surrounded by her children. Three pairs of amazement filled eyes watched, while nimble fingers created fantastic shapes from a pile of old foolscap sheets and some newspapers. This woman was my mother spinning her paper magic amongst us.

The first to appear were a trio of sailboats, which immediately went through their launching ceremony and then their demise, in the pouring monsoon rain. These were followed by a two-funnelled ship, an airplane and a rocket. While these paper toys generated excitement amongst us, we always clamoured for two of our most favoured playthings - an ingeniously made ‘watchamacallit’ that we named ‘Din Raat’ and a flower-like fan mounted on a stick, which revolved like a propeller when we waved it to and fro or ran around holding it in front of us.

The ‘Din Raat’ was a ‘four segment thingy’ made from ordinary white copy book-sized paper, folded in a manner that four pockets on its outer side fitted snugly over an equal number of digits. These fingers were then moved in what can best be described as alternate ‘north-south and east-west’ movement so that only two opposite inside surfaces became visible at the same time. Two of these opposite insides were painted black to represent night and the remaining two left unpainted to denote day. The overall result was a fascinating display of ‘black and white’ or ‘night and day’, which was considered the closest thing to magic by us.

The paper fan was made by making diagonal cuts from the corners halfway to the centre of a square sheet of paper and then folding the halves concentrically at the centre. The result was a flower-like shape that was secured to a ‘kana’ or reed stick by running a common pin through the junction point of the folded ‘petals’ right through the stick.

While our ‘boats and airplanes’ were of the most rudimentary kind, there was a time when elaborately made stuffed paper toys were much in demand. I remember our annual trip to the Festival of the Lamps or Mela Chiragan at Shalimar Gardens was usually rewarded by loads of beautifully created paper figures of colourful birds and animals stuffed with sawdust.

It was this year that on visiting a rural mela in search of threads for my column, I came across an old man selling these playthings from my childhood. I was so overwhelmed with happiness on discovering that this art was alive and well, that I ecstatically bought a senseless number of parrots, pigeons and doves with little thought to the subsequent audit of my reckless purchase from my family.

As we grew up, got married and had children, me and my siblings carried on the ‘paper magic’ with our little ones, throwing in a couple of more ‘tricks’ picked up from here and there. I was recently rewarded for keeping my ‘boats’ alive, when we filled our portable swimming pool on a hot summer day, for our visiting grandchildren. I was expecting this lot of tiny tornadoes to be equipped with rubber ducks et al, but my happiness knew no bounds when my granddaughter ran up excitedly brandishing (out of all things) a paper boat.

I have now embarked upon a ‘training programme’ for the youngsters in my immediate and extended family to put them in touch with the joy of small things, one of which is making things out of paper. The credit for this goes to the little girl, who sat up in her bed, laboriously folding sheets of paper to create a boat that she could sail the next day.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.