Dolls… when I was a child, every little girl had a doll, seen as the must have toy, whether she liked it or not. Many girls loved their dolls and the toy market was the first to take advantage. I didn’t care for them at first, preferring my red and white rabbit with a plastic face that I needed to fall asleep. Later, I loved cars and trucks and a had a garage and a collection of little cars that I played with for days on end. In 1962, my cousin Sally came from the US and brought me a Barbie as a gift. My nanny Germaine, thought it was a strange toy for a little girl and my sisters mocked her large breasts and tiny waist. In the summer of 64, my cousin Jacqueline’s daughter Danielle came to visit for the summer from Ohio. She liked dolls, but her parents, both University professors, disapproved of Barbie, so we turned to conventional dolls, playing obsessively for the three months she was there. For us, dolls, like stuffed animals, were like live beings. We projected a personality on each, felt guilty for not taking care of them, and tried to love and care for the ugly ones like we would our favorites. Seeing an abandoned doll or bear was a disturbing sight and one day, when I saw two little boys tearing apart a teddy bear, I felt I was witnessing a murder. It took me a long time to rid myself of this perception.
Twenty years later, I introduced dolls to my daughters, who all loved them. In the 80’s someone came out with a baby doll in newborn or 3 month old baby sizes. No need to buy clothes, it could wear a baby’s outgrown wardrobe. Part stuffed fabric, part plastic, it looked like and held itself in one’s arms like a real baby, eerily so.
In 1984, my mother sent Sochoe and Dechen, then 3 and 2, two babies that arrived from Paris in yellow “la Poste” cardboard boxes in the Tibetan settlement in Mundgod, South India where we were spending the winter. They were an immense success, not only with children, but with anyone we encountered. On the train, women would ask to hold them and pass them around. Baby would be taken on a walk and passing a mud home, would end up in the courtyard in a grandmother’s arms. Things were a little rougher in India, where there were rats who chewed on doll faces or hands, mold that stained them or friends who didn’t treat them like human beings, but they remained infused with a feeling of reality projection, and were treated with care. Later, my daughters watched horror movies involving dolls and suddenly found them spooky, especially when they were old and shabby and had glass eyes.
Thirty years later, when Dechen was expecting her 3rd child I bought her second daughter, Baby D, a newborn size baby to ease her into the idea of a younger sibling. She loved baby, and had dress competitions with her new little cousin, Yulha, eying the clothes she was outgrowing. Baby travelled to Tibet with Baby D, and wherever her mother carried her little sister. It was ‘You have your baby, I have mine’. One day, she took Baby to Labrang on a weekend visit to her grandparents. The family poured out of the car in front of the Norden Café, a semi busy street across from the monastery. Several things rolled out, including Baby, and Dechen hurried out to collect the fallen contents of her bag…and baby. Passersby stood watching from the sidewalk, jaws dropping at the sight of what they thought was a real baby popping out of the car onto the road while the ‘mother’ gingerly collected her wallet and other fallen items before casually scooping it up. Horror gave way to hilarity and surprise.