Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stories, stories and more stories

Stories and more stories – mythologies, stories of real life adventures, short stories by great authors – all of these were lovingly told to my brother and I when we were children. And we eagerly absorbed them. What we did not realise at that time was that each and every one of these stories that my parents told us invariably had a value or moral attached to it. And slowly but steadily these values built our character.

My dad focused more on stories of great courage - both physical and mental- stories of endurance, stories of the triumph of human spirit against unbelievable odds. He also loved to tell stories plucked from the pages of biographies of great people- stories that reinforced the inner strengths and humility of these persons.

I still remember listening open mouthed when he told us the story of the crossing of the Gobi desert, the story of George Washington, the story of Napoleon etc.

He taught me the lines Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.

My mom would tell us stories from Hindu mythology. Stories of kings and gods and demigod each with its own learning. But more importantly, stories which were so vivid in their imagination that they triggered off our (my brother and I ) first interest in books.

Thus between the two of them, my parents delivered some fundamental values to us over many wide eyed story sessions. Looking back now, i believe the most well trained child psychologist could not have faulted my parents for the content, the medium or the delivery method for these values.

Apart from instilling values such as courage, honesty, integrity and respect for elders, the other very important value that was instilled in us was that of equality. I learned from my parents that all men are born equal. Cast, creed, colour, religion, economic strata, etc. did not matter. What mattered is the person.

My dad also insisted that we study in government schools in Malayalam medium to be more rooted to the real India. So we ended up studying in some really interesting schools – the type of schools most families of our background would not have dreamt of sending their children to. In the schools I studied in, I had to sit on the floor in at least 3 of the 10 years. Each class had an average of 55-60 students, most of the schools had no uniform, since the students could not afford them, and I knew better English than my English teachers. In the 10th standard public exam, there were close to 400 students from my school who appeared for the test. Only around 80 passed. There were only about 20 who got 60% and above. So I can safely say that in terms of academics, I did not learn too much in these schools. But in terms of real education, the founding these years gave me – understanding the true India, learning to adjust with people from all walks of life, i could not have asked for a better learning ground.

So how did I manage to pick up some English? I believe i learned my English thru reading the works of the best 3 possible authors. Enid Blyton to start with, then PG Wodehouse and finally William Shakespeare. I don’t think reading any other author could give a better foundation in the queen’s English than Enid Blyton. My parents made sure we have plenty of Enid Blyton to read. All the ‘famous fives’, ‘secret sevens’, ‘five findouters’ etc. Apart from laying the foundation for English language skills, these books also evoked the strongest love for adventure and of course love for voracious reading.

My dad used to translate PG Wodehouse stories and Sherlock Holmes stories to us when we were kids, So from Enid Blyton, the next logical step was to start reading Wodehouse. What a treat. What amazing language. And what an incredible sense of humour. If everyone we know reads a few volumes of PGW, the world would be full of people who do not take themselves too seriously. We would have less zealots and terrorists.

I stumbled on Shakespeare by the most amazing bit of serendipity- again thanks to my dad. We were discussing the great speeches made by famous people and he told me about Mark Antony’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We immediately took down the “complete works of William Shakespeare” from the shelf and went thru the speech. It fascinated me so much, I decided to read the whole play. So there I was, 13 year old, who had never conversed in English, studying in Malayalam medium, where the teachers taught that a ‘rocking horse’ is a small rock carved horse, wading thru the unabridged works of Shakespeare. It was tough. But I persisted. Each time I read a line, new meanings were revealed. I went on to read a lot of other plays as well.

Thus parents were a funnel – maybe an inverted one – to further strengthen the values which my grandparents stressed on. That of integrity, honesty, compassion for the poor, equality, respect for elders, responsibility etc. And also, the stress on continuous learning.

2 comments:

SHEEL MAJUMDAR said...

"All the ‘famous fives’, ‘secret sevens’, ‘five findouters’ etc." - Priceless !!!

I sincerely think Enid Blyton deserves an universal honour of some kind for being able to improve the grasp over liguistic capabilities of English for millions.

Nice Read, RamG. Thanks

Ramgopal Vallath said...

hey sheel, good to see your comment.
Yeah Enid Blyton is awesome. even now, i love reading those.