Reading and Writing Experiences
Do you remember the first book you read? The first sentence you wrote? What your first essay was about? For most people, including me, reading and writing started as a task, homework. It was daunting and tiresome as it invariably ate into my play time. Why would I sit around and stare at linear black lines that formed tiny alphabetical figures and words on a page which would only give me a golden star, when I can be playing cops and robbers with my friends in the playground? Most of these lessons we learn too late, some day when we are old enough to start reading fairy tales once again.
I began reading fairy tales at the age of 4. My elder sister was an avid reader and had collected many books and novels before I was born. It was safe to say that I was born into a library of knowledge. No work was needed; the stories were patiently waiting to be read. My favorites were fairy tales; Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel were my friends when I was little. I read their stories every night and then recited my own to them, as if they were waiting to be told a story just to tuck them into bed every night. I met my fairy tale friends every day and told them my stories, about school, home and the neighborhood. I tried to simplify this for them as they had never been to where I lived. They made it so easy for me to visit their homes each day; I thought it to be most impolite not to return the favor. On one particular summer day when school was out for the holidays, I took up my fairy tale story book as I would have done by habit, but this time there was a shiny green marker lying right above it. Whose was it? Why was it there, above my story book just before I was to read it?! The sheer boldness of that action took me by surprise and I wondered for a few minutes what to do. I picked it up to examine it. It was thicker than the normal pens used by my parents or sister, it was a new and uncharted territory. I looked around and slyly picked it up as though I was breaking the law, and slipped it into my pocket for further examination. I perched myself on the couch to read my fairy tales, but opened the book and took out my newly found possession. I popped open the cap and the pungent scent of marker ink filled my little nose as I boldly wrote my name across Snow White’s pretty frilled dress. The sanctity of my fairy tale book was lost to the ink of my marker. It only took me a few holiday hours to fill the entire book with my name as I learnt the joy of color pencils and felt tipped pens. I was now fully introduced to the world of stationery and there was no looking back.
“Mine is better than yours!” These innocent words said by a 6 year old, are such innuendo heavy sentences only a decade later that we today are blindly searching where our innocence was lost! Collections; stamp collections, pebble collections, sports cards, shells, empty perfume bottles, dolls and action figures – the list is endless. That was the currency when we were kids! It still probably is, for those who live simply. We didn’t care for rectangular shaped paper strips that people carried around in their pockets; we were more interested in the latest action figure or sports card or the latest fuzzy stickers! How can we get one of those? Well, exactly how our ancestors did it – Trade. However the largest legal trade for those between the ages of 6 to 8 years was the Mr. Men and Little Miss book series. Mr. Strong, Mr. Perfect, Mr. Muddle, Mr. Rush and Mr. Topsy-Turvy joined by their Little Miss companions Little Miss Chatterbox, Little Miss Neat, Little Miss Late, Little Miss Shy, Little Miss Tiny and all their other friends were my life for almost two whole years. They humored me with their silly antics and moral filled endings. They became part of my routine, every day I met a new friend and was told their story. I did business and traded and reaped the fruit of my spoils. There were new characters to embrace, new stories to be heard, and new lives to be a part of each day.
“My Home”, the first essay to be ever written in my long list of future essays to come. I described my long open balcony, the space to run around in my hall, the full length mirror on my dad’s cupboard and every tiny detail that came to my averagely developed brain. The essay was a full twenty three lines in a bold charcoal black pencil and my running primary school handwriting. It was my first A+ and the first time I was rewarded with two gold stars. Life could not have been any sweeter!
Primary school seemed to be the most rule-filled years of my life. The “Do/Not Do List” was longer than any memorandum ever written. Therefore when the time came to go to middle school, it felt like freedom would come at last. After years of writing with lead and charcoal we were finally “old” enough to pick up ink pens and permanently put down our ideas in books. Until now, no teacher or parent, or student for that matter was confident enough to write a word in ink. “What if we got it wrong?” The sheer weight of a possibility of a mistake or spelling error hung over our heads like a guillotine. But once we picked up the pens and confidently scribbled in our notebooks not even the shadow of a possibility of a mistake entered into our minds.
School is not complete with a teacher which changed the very fabric of her job and made it accessible to you. A teacher would impart knowledge on grounds that they would always hold more cards of knowledge than their students. But ever so often there comes one who changes those rules and throws open the battleground for everyone to play in, not battle (ironically!). For me this person was my Sixth Standard English teacher. She was short and small built but with a voice that would carry on for miles. She had a very unusually divine habit of smiling every time she read out a text. She was the first one to make us question ourselves, question the language and our own beliefs on whose shaky foundations we built our English language building. Once conventionalism was out of the way we studied contemporary poetry by “Unknown” and writings in magazines and newspapers. She made us connect with what was around us now, not a hundred years ago written in a language from which English was derived. She made us pick up works that inspire us, thrill us and move us in way that was not normal for a Sixth grader. That year I wrote my very first poem. It was commonly titled “Love” but referred to the love I shared with my brand new computer. There were no rules, no limits and no conventions that year. It was the freest English had ever made me and that changed my life forever.
He was a small ratty-faced man with grey teeth. His eyes were dark and quick and clever, like the rat’s eyes, and his ears were slightly pointed at the top. He had a cloth cap on his head and he was wearing a grayish – colored jacket with enormous pockets. The grey jacket, together with the quick eyes and the pointed ears, made him look more than anything like some sort of a huge human rat. (Dahl 33)
The first entry in any book or journal is always carefully written and well thought out. It was the beginning after all and you never want to mess up the beginning. Sure, you can go off track a bit in the middle, but the beginning is always the most important. The above was the beginning to my “Expressions’ Book”. In the Eighth Grade my English teacher made us retain what she had titled an “Expressions’ Book”. This would hold all the prized expressions, phrases and words that we loved in any article, story or novel we ever read. The reason she made us maintain this book is because she believed that each and every one of her students had the ability to be a writer someday. And when that would happen we would look back at out expressions’ book and take from it to be inspired to write our own new expressions and phrases for future generation of students to write in their expressions’ books. This chain of events that she had started had been continuing for decades before us, only for us to realize that we were now unwittingly become a part of something bigger than us, greater than us, and that feeling of importance continued on till present day, only to become stronger by age.
Dahl, Roald “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – and six more”
Puffin Books (1995) 33.