Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Just Keep Reading, Just Keep Reading...

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent to us by Tanu Shree Singh. Tanu describes herself as "a regular mom of two and wife of one. Six dogs, a tank full of fish, three men (one by virtue of marriage and 2 by virtue of womb) pretty much describe me. I have an opinion on just about everything and my blog is the safest way of expression! There is no theme or direction to it just like me. Yes, I am a parent and no I do not have all the answers. How do I handle my boys born two years apart? It mostly involves earmuffs and sticking my head in the mud. So do I have any parenting advice? Hell, no! In fact, I believe there is no such thing as a parenting guide. Each child comes with an exclusive operating manual that God forgot to add to the starter kit. Apart from ranting, I dabble in writing and teaching Psychology." Read more on Tanu's blog.)

We get a lot of books at the library - all donated and not all necessarily the best works of literature there are. From badly written and poorly illustrated fairy tales to the best books one can dream of - all find space on shelves. When I sort books that are donated, there are these children that help me. They are mom's helper's kids and are being helped in their academics by her. Now the schools they were earlier going to didn't lay any strong foundations as far as any language is concerned. So although they rocked at rote learning, they never really understood what was going on on the pages of a book. And hence till the library happened, didn't really find it all interesting.

It was (and still is) a herculean task for mom to teach the basics. Getting them to befriend books was a fairly distant and a bleak dream for her. That was two years ago. Then a year back I started getting books for the library. And every now and then they'd grab a book and open it. These weren't the classics. Princesses fascinated one of the girls and the books she picked from the pile were fairly cringe-worthy. I was faced with a choice - I could tell her that these were rotten and hand her a 'better' book or let her read whatever caught her fancy and find her own reading journey. Thankfully, I stuck with the latter. Today all of them look forward to the reading hour at home, accompany me to my book-reading sessions, and jump at every opportunity of visiting the library.

My own boys still own a shelf-full of books that are collectively disliked by most adults. Yet they bought them, adding nothing but a big hole in my pocket. Every time at a bookstore when they picked one from the series, with a big smile plastered on their face, I had a strong urge to tell them that they were reading crap. I bit my tongue and paid up instead. And it is all paying off now. They read a vast variety of books from all sorts of genres. What I thought was a hole in my pocket ended up being a milestone in their reading journey.

So who or what defines a good book? Much to any seasoned reader's horror, anything that gets a child or a grown up to read is good enough. This realisation came with watching the boys and mom's students blossom into readers. And interacting with my own students who mostly come from rural backgrounds, sealed it. These kids studied in the village school if you can call it that. I have visited many of them - classrooms are dingy, teachers are either absent or busy with their own chores, rote learning is the motto and there is no emphasis whatsoever on the languages. The result is that a First year college student struggles with a simple leave application, the examination answer-book requires imagination while checking, and sometimes, teaching them the basics seems tougher than scaling the meanest mountains. In this hopeless darkness, sometimes a ray shines through when after much prodding they open books to read for leisure (another alien concept). Now at that crucial time, if I tell them that they are reading crap, would I be saving them as a reader? Am I doing them a disservice since I am letting them read something that has been poorly edited, has grotesque grammatical errors and a beaten down plot?

Some of you might nod and shout, 'take the damn books away and hand them something better!' I, on the contrary, do a little jig in my head every time I see them with a book - no matter how 'bad.' Being a snob is the easiest thing to do but all it does is reassure us that we are reading good stuff; it doesn't help the closet reader, the one who has always been scared of long sentences and thinks that books are overrated. These bad books would hopefully form the foundation of a life long love affair with reading. So I choose to be the drug peddler- get them addicted to the idea of books first. Once you are sure they can't do without them, lead them to the better shelves and hope that they pick something less cringe- worthy. Yet, if they do end up opting for the so-called inferior ones, I choose to be thick skinned and not die of horror. I choose to wait and for now revel in the fact that they are reading - disjointed, hesitant sentences but reading nevertheless. And hopefully, they will not stop.

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