Thursday, August 21, 2014

(Such) A long journey

What I started out as a review for the book Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry became a comparative study on stories included in the English text books in school, say class 5. Such a long journey indeed!

We had three, Main-course, Workbook and Reader. Later we called them Textbook, Workbook and Non-detail.

As I started reading the book, I thought this and other short stories and novels by Rohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh should be included in English readers or non-detail. This book particularly, even teaches you a few words like it should.
I guess I thought that because the author wanted me to, being suggestive with his tiny bits of mockery of the English reader that we normally use when little Roshan starts thinking of the objects from an English lifestyle that she learnt in her convent school. It reminded me of my earliest memory of such an experience.
Banana split. That's what a 12 year old girl wanted when her mother meets a man who tries to sell her an umbrella in The Umbrella Man. My English teacher took us through the story of how the girl's attention was only on the banana split even as she narrated what her mother was doing but my teacher never explained what it was. Perhaps she didn't know it herself. How was she to know when she probably studied the same books we did that were passed on by Anglo Catholic nuns in convent schools two generations ago. We don't eat banana any other way except as a fruit itself. However, all the time I was taught that story as a lesson, in what I fail to understand, I kept wondering how good it must taste. Only a few weeks ago,  I saw a strawberry and banana split. I didn't taste it. I don't like banana any other way except as a fruit itself. Now strawberry is another thing. I never tasted the real fruit till I came to London. 
The Umbrella Man was written by Roald Dahl. And it was very well written but the girl visits a dentist in London and both a dentist and London, and of course the banana split, were such abstract concepts to me.
A Visit to the Dentist by Ogden Nash was much loved because it was funny and the author's first name was funny and it ends by saying why do you visit a dentist if the whole point was to keep your teeth in shape so you don't have to visit a dentist.
Occasionally we had one or two Indian writers but no one who wrote so simply for children, to teach them English in a way to include it in their lives.
There once was a story called Games at Twilight by Anita Desai. It's so disgusting in its description that along side banana splits and funny dentist visits, Indian childhood seemed miserable even though the kids were playing the ever enjoyable game of hide and seek in twilight like we all did especially during power cuts in the summer holidays. In a course on Indian contemporary writing later in college, I read parts of her daughters' novel, The Inheritance of Loss. It talked about all the insecurities of an Indian man in England including the way he shit; makes me wonder what she really thought about Indians. I agree people have insecurities, some more than others. Especially if you come to another country where you are not a citizen it can be an intimidating experience. But Kiran Desai made such misery out of it. At least she didn't write about children or for children, only for winning awards in western countries that want to hear about the suffering third world which she never even lived in. 
There were also other stories by Amrita Pritam like The Stench of Kerosene - so strong so vivid. That was a story to tell even though it's a story of misery but told to help mould you into a better human being. 
Bit stories like that were rare and more like Mulakraj Anand who wrote about two milk maids, Hiro and Besanto who are selling milk to a leccroius store-owner who prefers to buy Besanto's milk. (The story does say Besanto's milk, such poor English or a disgusting pun intended, I know not).
Compared to these Indian writers, the way Amitav Ghosh describes characters and incidents is incredibly beautiful. I remember not long ago I said it must be a delight to be one of his characters, no matter how small. Rohinton Mistry is similar and there is also an added innocence and magic to his characters and stories and descriptions, may be because I've read only his stories on children and simple adults who have senseless insecurities and small blemishes like we all do.
It's sad that such writers who degrade the entire population of India get included in curriculum, but Rohinton Mistry is excluded because one of his characters from a community in India made a derogatory statement towards another community in India. Sure it's wrong to teach kids about degrading any community or to think it's OK to say such things but losing confidence by degrading yourself didn't help either! Games at Twilight just makes you hate your childhood.

No comments:

Post a Comment