I had taken my father to the local lending library for his weekly quota of books to read, and while I was waiting for him to return the last lot and pick new ones, I was browsing the shelves. I came across the old classic “To kill a mocking bird” by Harper Lee and decided to re-read it after perhaps thiry years or so. Just bringing the book home brought back memories of Gregory Peck in the movie of the same title and how much the book and the movie had impacted me and many of my friends.
Many of my readers should also be reminded of this wonderful book and the equally wonderful movie. I don’t have much to say about them. What I wish to write about is the peculiar identification that I now have with Scout Finch. In the very first chapter, Scout recollects how she had problems with her teacher about her reading skills. Let me quote:
“I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church – was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoe laces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory, listening to the news of the day, Bills To Be Enacted into Laws, the diaries of Loronzo Dow – anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
I do not remember this passage having any impact on me when I had read the book the first time all those years ago. For some strange reason, this time around, this passage stands out as a very important lesson. When talks about this experience, she has just attended her first day in school. The teacher simply was unable to accept that the little girl could read so well and blames Atticus for teaching her using the wrong methods!
I do remember learning how to write using specially ruled notebooks with alphabets and words printed on the margins to copy and practice. I also remember learning the multiplication tables and doing simple additions and subtractions in the Montessori school to which I went till I was taken out and put in a regular school in class IV. I have been trying to remember how I learnt to read and as much as I have struggled with that thought, I simply cannot remember formally undergoing training to read. Like Scout, I just seemed to have picked it up, without formally going through a process of learning how to read, though I learnt Tamil first and English much later. I have vivid memories of eagerly awaiting the arrival of the weekly quota of Tamil magazines over which I would fight with my mother and later on with my siblings. I too can honestly say that “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
I wonder if this is something that is peculiar to me or everybody feels the same way about how they learnt to read. I will be truly interested in finding out from my readers if this is true in their cases as well.