In a country with a large young population, which needs both educational and attractive toys, the art of toy designing is getting to be a business much in demand and is being offered as a career to those keen on joining it.
The Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Design (NID) is offering a two-and-a-half-year postgraduate programme in toy design and development for those holding a bachelor's degree.
"It's interesting that we're able to attract architects, engineers, child specialists and computer science people," said, Sudarshan Khanna, head of NID's toy centre.
"We take in seven-eight people each year. We give them projects and work related to themes of research on heritage (toys), special needs and disability. Each one has to go through all disciplines and then decide on a specialisation. In other places the focus is entirely on the industry," said Khanna, a prominent researcher on India's toy traditions.
NID advertises its postgraduate studies in toys, saying its students have worked "As creative professionals and consultants with companies like Tata Interactive Systems, Creative Educational Aids Pvt Ltd, Funskool Pvt Ltd, HABA Industry (Germany) as well as in the social sector for projects on craft design development, health, education and play therapy".
Khanna sees the strength of the Indian toy industry in "the fact that they now realise their weakness".
Said Khanna, who was part of the jury in a toy design contest here: "They cannot depend only on the price tag or low prices because China can do better in that. They've come to the realisation that what will sell are original ideas, novelty and newness."
According to him, the Indian toy sector is getting better organised now. "With the launch of initiatives like the toy city in Delhi, they've come together under a new 'brand value' and got a psychological feeling that they're special, and that their work goes beyond just (making) money".
He added that toy manufacturers were increasingly realising that they could work with student-designers and get quality at reasonable costs. "They know that a lot can be done. They don't have to merely copy."
But Indian toy manufacturers tended to be "small" and have not yet realised that human resources are important.
"It's not just technology that matters. You can buy technology or subcontract it. Human resources, creativity and management are more important than having the latest plant," remarked Khanna.
NID's toy design programme has already brought out some results. Student-designer Ravinder Singh Bhatia came up with a mobile phone-based 'playing with dots' game, sponsored by a Bangalore firm.
Kanaka Anath, another student-designer, created a set of four games as part of an educational board games set. Sajith Gopinath created games for the Gujarat government's department of health and family welfare to convey various health and hygiene issues to middle school students.
Toy firm Welby Impex of Greater Noida, near New Delhi, got student-designer Pavan Mulik to create a toy based on the traditional wind-up mechanism that imitates a snake's zig-zag movements.
"Stop and Go" (called Stabilitaten in German) is based on the principle of inclined plane motion. Designed by Sudarshan Khanna, it was distributed by the leading German toy company Wehfritz.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Bangalore, sponsored Vaibhav K. Mohite to work out an activity-based group game for children. Mohite said the game gave him a chance to "motivate children to go out and play by blending entertainment and letting children learn about our culture as well."
ISKCON Bangalore also sponsored work on a puppet zone for its theme park.
Rishi Kumar Verma, an architect from Lucknow, said his childhood fascination for toys grew into his professional passion as well. "I can use my architecture inputs into this field too," he said.
Khanna has launched a network called "Toys For Tomorrow", with some international participation and the involvement of 80 people, committed to the idea of giving kids better-designed toys.
"It's for people who are committed to toys as a medium for children's development, whether they're from the industry, research field or education," he said.
"Nobody is creating a larger agenda. The industry only has a short-term view. Different cultures have a cultural agenda, which is marketable. But it is beyond the industry to frame it. That is for researchers to do," Khanna explained.
Khanna believes the Indian 'organised' or 'factory' toy market is worth over Rs.10 billion per year, "which is still very small". But the unorganised sector, he says, is "much larger but undocumented".
"I have pictures and addresses (of who's doing work in traditional toy making in different parts of India) because I have travelled to study it. It is sizeable. There are others like potters and carpenters who are also toy makers," he added.
Khanna is coming out with a book on toys and toy-makers of India. His "Joy of Making Indian Toys" is already available for download on the Internet, after it went out of print.