I was brought up in a city where Hindustani was spoken with pride and finesse. I also had two very dear grand moms, with whom I spent a lot of my time, and they spoke the sweetest Awadhi. My grandfather read and wrote fluent Urdu, since that was the official language of communication back then, and my mom had a doctorate in Sanskrit.
The Queen’s English was definitely not top of the pile for me.
However my forward-thinking parents eager to give me a good start, put me in the best Convent School of the city that came with imported nuns :-). The school was situated almost on the outskirts of the city and my mom tells me she had to brave many a snide comment from busybodies. (Sending the kids away to study in the jungle!! And such small babies at that!). She listened to no one. A scholar herself, studying was/is her passion.
Amidst running a house and the scores of demands of a joint family she made time to listen and practice the language with me. However I remained far from perfect. By the time I turned 6 or 7 my problems must have been apparent.
Nobody knows that I .. was so bad at English my parents were summoned to school. I remember clearly that feeling of absolute dread while I waited with my father in the school parlour. As it turned out my teacher had a treat in store for me – I was told to read. Not school books but storybooks! Delight of delights!!
In a family where academics were highly valued, leisure reading was looked down upon as a waste of time. And there my teacher had prescribed just that for me.
I couldn’t have been happier.
The first book I remember my father getting me, was one of Shakespear’s plays adapted as short stories. It was all plain pages and heavy text with perhaps a single black and white sketch for each story. And I loved it – As You like it, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice – I read them all and I still remember some of them only from that tiny book. And so holding onto the hand of the Bard I began my reading journey.
Perhaps it was that teacher’s concern and the fact that my parents valued and followed her advice that set me off on this delightful tryst with books.
For that I shall forever be grateful.