The genetic mapping for the love of language
In my father’s horoscope notebook, I saw the scribbled prediction by the astrologer who had prophesied that my dad would master the English language. It was a surprising prophecy in a horoscope, but it was there. I am not sure whether the horoscope prediction induced his love for the language, or the British rule at that time helped him get interested in the language.But I know that my dad took pride in being able to read, write, and speak in English. He was the first man in his community to be employed in a government job after he just completed his SSLC, which is equivalent to 10th grade.
He started his work as a sanitary inspector and was interested in the fields of medicine and astrology. He kept a medical encyclopedia, a book that catalogued medicines and the diseases that they cure,a book about Bhagvad Gita, and an astrology book- all of them written in English. I had never seen him read Gita, however I had seen him use the medical books and the astrology book extensively. The Gita book had my favorite story, about a King named Bharata , that provided a better explanation for my confused young mind about the philosophy in Gita. I still own the two books- Gita in tattered pieces of papers here and there, and the astrology book in good shape as my father had paid to get it bound.
My dad enrolled me in an English medium class when I started sixth grade at a new school. I struggled to understand the subjects in English and fit in the new school environment. I remember my dad teaching me English over the weekend when he came to spend time with us from his job in another town that was 100-150 kms away. As years went on, I began to perform well in school and became proficient in English . When I finished tenth grade, my dad had the English newspaper, The Hindu, delivered to us every Sunday so that I could further improve my English knowledge. Even though I studied in English medium, I could not immediately understand the topics discussed in the newspaper. My dad encouraged me to use dictionary to understand the unknown words, and I remember that, initially, it took me a while to get through two paragraphs in the newspaper. As I think back, it was my dad who had the most fun in reading the newspaper. He would hog the newspaper from the time it was delivered around 7 a.m until it was time for him to go which was around 9:30 a.m. He would hand me the local news section of the paper which I found boring to read; I would impatiently wait to read the headlines and sports section of the newspaper.
I believe, those newspaper reading sessions along with a typical teenager’s need to express and establish identity, made English as my favorite subject in the final years of high school. There were two tests for English language in those years- the first one tested comprehension of the text in the book and the second one tested general knowledge about proper use of English and its grammar. In those days, the English text books in India had essays, poems, and stories with questions at the end of each item that tested a student’s ability to comprehend text, write short and long answers, and understand grammar rules.
I became obsessed with the poems and essays, and I memorized the entire book of about 100 pages. I just loved the words in them and used them as it were in the text as I disliked to rephrase the sentences while answering questions in the test. At that time, I thought that using the sophisticated language as it was in the text book was beautiful and that it showed I knew more than the other students.Now that I think about it, it does not sound creative at all.I also loved writing the essay for the English second paper . As part of the test, students were given a topic -about which they have to write an essay that covered at least 1 and a half pages of unruled long paper. I still remember the essay topic in my final exam, which was about equality among classes. I, in my youthful exuberance, wrote about the evils of caste system, inequality among rich and poor classes, and so on. When I came back from the test, I discussed the test questions with my father. As he listened to my response for the essay, his face became crinkled and showed signs of agitation and worry. After careful consideration, he predicted that I would not get a good score for the essay; I got 92.5% as average of both tests, which was neither state first nor school first score. My English teacher was angry at me when I went to receive my mark sheet (kind of report card with all your test scores from each subject). She was upset that I did not get the top grades and proclaimed that I never studied for the test. The truth was- that was the only subject that I studied and enjoyed with all my heart.
After graduating from high school, I planned to study English in college until one of dad’s friends stepped in the way and changed the course. I took physics in college and stayed in hostel during my college years. .When I corresponded to home from my hostel, I was expected to write letters in English and my dad replied to those letters in English. In college, I was introduced to English novels, M&B books, and books by Barabara Cartland, Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook, Victoria Holt, and Jeffery Archer, by a classmate who was from the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh and who had been educated in different international schools. She spoke mainly in English and occasionally in fledgling Tamil. My dad loved talking with her when he came to visit; it gave him an opportunity to practice spoken English. He would look down, think, close his eyes, and talk in English, not fluently but haltingly.
His love for learning the language continued until couple of weeks before his death. He regularly read the newspaper, wrote down the unknown words in a notepad, copied the meaning from the Oxford dictionary, which he had bought for my mother when she went to college, and wrote a sentence that used the word. He enjoyed learning and he was his own English teacher.I used to wonder what motivated him to learn even when he was in his 70’s; now I don’t and it seems natural that one would pursue the interest of his heart when he has time and means in his hands.
My father did not live to see my daughters’ interest in reading and writing. From early age on, my older daughter showed interest in reading. We moved here when she was about 18 months old and we spent time together reading books.I read the first three books of Harry Potter with her at the suggestion by her first grade teacher. My older daughter was in third grade when she began to show passion for writing. She used to write pages and pages of stories; she enjoyed it so much that at one point in time she wanted to be an author like J.K. Rowling. We didn’t encourage her much in that ambition after elementary school. However, she wrote poems in middle and high school and published them in her school books. She wrote a poem in sixth grade, which I thought beautifully captured the small moments on our trip to India, and it became an inspiration for my blog several years later.
With my second daughter, I did not spend that much time with her in reading books, and she did not enjoy reading as her sister did until she was 6 years old. Then she showed some interest in non fiction books, but her love for reading finally took off when she began to read Harry potter and then Percy Jackson books. As for writing, she didn’t enjoy that either until the end of fourth or the beginning of fifth grade; In that period of time, she began to make thoughtful,meaningful connections and was creative in her writing. In the middle of the fifth grade, she wrote a poem for one of the contests, and her poem was chosen as the national winner in her grade level. The recognition came at a right time to boost her confidence about her writing skills.
Now the love for reading and writing had been finally passed onto the youngest one in the family. As for me, I did not do much for a longer time with the language, other than to read news articles or occasional story books until I recently started this blog as I ,again, fell in love with the words. I have started my next journey in expressing my thoughts even though I don’t know how long it will last; I am hoping to enjoy as long as it lasts.