Mum was my first teacher, especially in English. I think I get my love of language and words from her side. Oh, and the sense of humor too, perhaps?

We’ve been subscribing to the Readers’ Digest for donkey’s years now. I don’t even remember when I started reading it myself. Only that it was one of the many books, newspapers and magazines always around. I started with the end-of-story filler jokes and then graduated to the colorfully illustrated Laughter-The Best Medicine, Life’s Like That and All in a Day’s work. Before I knew it, I was reading the stories and articles as well and my parents had one more contender to the monthly issue. It was always a tussle.

In the house that I grew up in, we had a magazine stand, stuffed to spilling point with mum’s Tamizh magazines but also with the month’s issue of RD discreetly tucked away. Once it was found under a pillow after the last reader fell asleep on it and made the bed over it by mistake. But there was always a struggle over who got to read it the day it arrived.

Now, I find that RD eventually ends up in my parents’ room where both of them take their turn reading it and then it lies atop their respective bedside ‘to-read’ stacks. Then the next one arrives and the ‘old’ issue is relegated to the newspaper drawers. I don’t get to see it at all unless I salvage it before it goes to the raddiwallah!!!!!!

Foul! I cried and stole it away this month, whereupon it lay on my bedstead for 3 days with dad turning their room upside down looking for it. Though I actually got to read it only today. Sprawled on my tummy with mum idling next to me, I leaf through it and announce that I am going to do the Word Power challenge.

Aloud, she urges. So I start…little thinking that it will turn out to be another episode of Mum’s haha-pie. Ten minutes later, after I’m done, I read out the answers with the notes that follow (“knowing the root of the word improves your understanding of other related words…a trick I picked up after the CAT entrances” I tell her). She yawns in response and I am tempted to make my usual wise-cracks about…

I need all this. After all, I didn’t study in a convent like you! All I went to was some unknown village school.

All because the area my school was in, used to be a village in…godknows, the 18th century? πŸ™‚

Ahem, ahem, I preen, anticipating a high score…and tell her that ‘tangent’ is derived from the Latin word tangere.

She says,

I’ve heard of Tanjere. I think its a place in Africa.

I interrupt her to tell her that she might be thinking of Tanzania.

No, there’s some place called…

..she continues

Or maybe you’re thinking of Tanjore, where our ancestors were from!!

And we both dissolve in laughter as she calls me a very silly girl .

Every word and its meaning becomes a new discussion, a new joke. So ferre contributing to circumference turns into a story of faireewallas who are actually those men who pull hand-carts.

Maybe they’re called that because they ferry things around, I observe.

She laughs and tells me that it’s more likely because they do feras around the city with those carts.

When I get to genus and read out the example: ‘Some trees are called oak but do not belong to the genus Quercus’ , mum says it reminds her of a childhood poem and starts to chant. Mid-way through the first word, I join in and we go

Oak before ash, in for a splash!
Ash before oak, in for a soak!

As we end in unison, she asks wide-eyed, if I had studied it too. I tell her no, I’ve just heard her say it so often, I may as well know it too now.
Parse (meaning to analyze grammatically) has mum observing in all seriousness,

So a parson is a person who analyzes the sins of the parishioners?

And she begs me not to be write this down, for fear of offending our Christian friends. I laugh her off and tell her not to worry, everyone has a funny bone somewhere.

Integer leads us to a weird conversation since it comes from the Latin word for ‘intact, whole’. This makes perfect sense to me but mum asks why we say something is an ‘integral part’ of something. I tell it that’s used to describe a part without which the whole does not have integrity. I conclude,

So it is something that brings integrity to the whole.

She disagrees and tells me that it has to do with doing what you say you will. And when I shake my head, she counters with

If I’ve said I will murder somebody, I must do it or lose my integrity???!

Great. Grammar lessons turn into philosophical debates with mum. I laugh and announce that she’s not meant to be thinking of such esoteric ideas.

Precambrian has us both stumped. The options aren’t of any help either:

a. 50 million years ago
b. 200 million years ago
c. 400 million years ago
d. 2 billion years ago

No wonder we didn’t know it, we weren’t around then!

says mum in finality which ends the discussion.

And finally there’s pedagogy which sounds vaguely familiar to me but she claims to not have heard of.

I only know synagogue!

My claim to knowledge goes kaput as I get it wrong too. And I read out:

Relating to education; the profession or theory of teaching. Greek paidagogs (slave who escorted children to school). You had one of those, didn’t you?

She bristles and says,

He wasn’t a slave! He was an orderly, a paid, government servant.

Whatever…I grin and shut the issue. Dad wants to read it and my grammar lesson is over.

14 thoughts on “Readers don’t digest”
  1. I envy you for the English bond you have with your mother. My parents were educated in our local language and I could never have discussed these things with them. They bought me all kinds of books to sate my appetite for english, though.

    If I ever have kids and they don’t turn out to be books / english lovers, that will be my biggest disappointment, worse than if they turned out to be serial murderers.

  2. ah. The good ‘ol days of RD. Dad still has it. and religiously changes the ‘plastic cover’ every month when the new one arrives. πŸ˜€
    ‘pedagogy’: I’m shocked! a b-school grad and didn’t know it- its the most overused, abused word when talking about the IIMs πŸ˜‰ they can’t seem to stop Yapping about it.

  3. Call it a coincidence – I shall be disembarking off a ‘ferry’ at Tangier [Morocco, Africa] next month. Goin’ there on vacation.

  4. @ Sumanth: My respect for you grows.

    @ Brad: πŸ˜€ Call me. And this time, you shameless man, get me some chocolates (or whatever it is they eat at Tangier) and remember to send them to me!!!!!

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