On Time

“Time you old gypsy man, will you not stay? Put up your caravan just for one day?

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Source: Google

These lines from a poem learnt by rote in school, still remembered. Time had a different connotation when one was just fifteen. It was more about the “present”, and something one needed to cram in all the activities of teenage life.  Today with several decades behind one, Time is more about looking back, while Time the old gypsy man seems to be flashing past at the speed of light.

Today we live “by the clock”. Not only are our daily activities monitored by the clock, we depend on Apps to remind us to get up, to drink water, and to call our friends. Interestingly, the regular linear time line, cut up into days and weeks, is barely two and a half centuries old. In ancient times, time-keeping was more of an art than a science. People in most old civilizations relied on natural events–the turn of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon as some ways to measure time.  Different cultures had their own ways of measuring time.

The concept of time has always been relative and contextual. An essay that I read explores these dimensions of time through different cultures and history. Titled Cartographies of Time, the two-part essay by authors Jonny Miller and Dorothy Sanders is fascinating reading. Sharing some excerpts.

In Madagascar if you asked how long something was going to take, you might be told it would be “the time of rice cooking (about half an hour) or “the frying of a locust” (a few minutes).

For monks in Burma there is no need for alarm clocks. They know when it is time to get up when “there is enough light to see the veins on their hand.”

The Andamanese, a tribe that lives on the Andaman Islands have constructed an annual calendar built around the sequence of dominant smells of trees and flowers in their environment. Instead of living by a calendar, this tribe “simply smell the odours outside their door.’

The Amondawa tribe that lives in the Amazon Rainforest have no specific word in their language for ‘time’ nor do they determine any discrete periods of time such as a month or a year. They only have divisions for night and day, and rainy and dry seasons. Even more intriguing is that nobody in the community has an age. Instead they change their names to reflect their stage of life and position within the community. What a wonderful way to go through life, rather than our obsession with the number of candles on a birthday cake!

The fact remains that time, at least the way we understand it today, is always passing. But what we make of it, is entirely up to us.

As the Dalai Lama has said: “Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend, or a meaningful day.”

–Mamata

 

Where Did They Come From?

Back to my favourite topic—Words and their quaint origins!

CLUE: Comes from an old English word meaning a ball of thread that could help you find your way through a maze. This, is turn, refers to the Greek myth of Theseus who found his way out of the Cretan labyrinth by unravelling a ball of thread. And, from there evolved the use of the word “clue” which refers to hints that help to solve a mystery (or a crossword!).

QUIZ: An invented word. The story goes that in 1780 Richard Daly a Dublin theatre manager made a bet that he would introduce a new word into the language in 24 hours. He sent street urchins to write “Quiz” (a word that he made up) in chalk upon every wall and bare surface in the city, and in a few hours everyone was discussing it. Since no one knew what it meant everyone thought that it was some kind of a test. It came to be used to mean ‘enquiry’.

BLURB: A blurb on the cover of a book may give us a clue about what is in the book.  The word blurb was coined in 1907 by American humorist Gelett Burgess. The cover of his 1906 book Are You a Bromide?  had the picture of a fictitious Miss Belinda Blurb in the act of “blurbing”,  proclaiming “Yes, this is a blurb.”  From then on covers of books used to carry text “blurbs” without the picture. The word blurb entered standard English in the 1920s.

BLOCKBUSTER: This was the British name in World War II for a super-large high-explosive bomb capable of destroying large areas. Within a few years of its use in military terminology the word blockbuster was used to describe other powerful things such as sports teams and hail storms. In 1954 the expression block-buster was used to describe movies that grossed over two million dollars. Today blockbuster is generally used for super-hit movies, but also to describe something that is powerful, exciting, immense and successful.

Surprisingly today we say that a movie “bombed” at the box office to mean just the opposite!

CARTOON: This is the age of blockbuster ‘cartoon’ or animated movies. Interestingly the word derives from the Latin charta meaning paper via the Italian form cartone (a big piece of paper). It originally referred, in the Middle Ages, to a preparatory sketch for a tapestry or other artwork. The modern usage emerged in around 1843 when Punch magazine used satirised drawings of the new Victorian Houses of Parliament, and continued to use humorous illustrations in its issues. In the early 20th century, it began to be used to refer to animated films which resembled print cartoons.

IGNORAMUS: This used to be a favourite word of mine when I was in my teens—just liked the sound of it, and had fun using it to describe people! The word has its origins in legalese. Grand Juries in England wrote “ignoramus” on the back of rejected proposals for indictment to mean “we have no knowledge of it.” The implications that they did not wish to hear anything of it may have led to its later use to describe someone who knows nothing of anything.

The more I read about words, the more I discover what an ignoramus I am!

–Mamata

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Source: Google

Something to Buzz About!

Today is World Bee Day, designated by none other than the United Nations!honey-311047__340.png

This would have gone unnoticed had I not been reading about Bees for a lesson I was writing for a textbook. Having discovered that there was an international day dedicated to this small creature made me dig deeper–and unearth some delightful nuggets of information.

How did this come about? This was proposed by Slovenia (find that on the map!) on the initiative of the Slovenian Bee Keepers Association, and supported by the Slovenian Government. Following three years of efforts at the international level, on 20 December 2017, the UN Member States unanimously approved Slovenia’s proposal, thus proclaiming 20 May as World Bee Day.

Why Slovenia? Slovenia has a long and rich tradition of beekeeping as a major agricultural activity. Known as a Nation of Beekeepers–one in 200 of its inhabitants is engaged in bee keeping, and there are many levels of Beekeepers Associations. It is known for its unique wooden painted beehive panels and traditional beehive architecture. Even today, most Slovenian beekeepers use a traditional beehive called the AŽ hive, which was created over one hundred years ago.

Why 20 May? This is the birth date of Anton Jansa (1734–1773), a Slovenian beekeeper, the pioneer of modern beekeeping and one of the greatest authorities on the subject of bees. Jansa wisely said “Amongst all God’s beings there are none so hard working and useful to man with so little attention needed for its keep as the bee.”

What’s so special about bees? For most of us it is ‘Think Bees Think Honey’. Besides honey, bees also produce high-quality food like royal jelly and pollen, as well as other products used in healthcare like beeswax and bee venom.

While bees are the only animals that produce food that is eaten by other animals, as well as humans, we do not realise that every third spoonful of all the food we eat depends on bees. It is bees and other pollinators that pollinate nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90 per cent of the world’s food. When bees go, we lose much much more than a spoonful of honey.

Bees are vital for the preservation of ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. They also act as indicators of the state of the environment. Their presence, absence or quantity tells us when something is happening with the environment and that appropriate action is needed.

So why should we worry? The number of pollinators is in decline around the world. In some parts, this situation has become known as “the pollinator crisis”. New reports are raising the alarm about the rapid decline in bee species and numbers that will pose a direct threat to food production and food security. The time has come to heed the words of Albert Einstein “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

What can we do? For those of us bitten by the honey bug, we could take up beekeeping.

In India Government organisations like the National Bee Board under the Agriculture Department, and Central Bee Research and Training Institute IMG_20190516_115618.jpg(CBRTI) of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) provide training to not just farmers or those who wish to commercially supply honey, but also to anyone who is interested in beekeeping. They can be contacted at cbrti.pune@kvic.gov.in.

For the rest of us, we can do our bit by making bees welcome. We could provide fresh, pesticide-free drinking water; bees need to regularly drink water, especially in hot weather. We can also grow bee-friendly plants. Trees like gulmohar, champa and amaltas, and flowering plants like marigold, sunflower, rose, and hibiscus are ideal for attracting bees. Vegetable and fruit plants like ladies finger, onion, mustard, coriander, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, brinjal, tomato, chilli, papaya, lemon, mango, guava and pomegranate are also good at attracting bees.

While we can’t all transform into a Slovenia, maybe it’s time that we saw that bee as more than just a passing buzz!

–Mamata

May 22 also marks the International Day for Biological Diversity. Let’s start the celebration with a Bee!

 

 

Wordsmithery

A crossword clue led me to this by chance. The clue was ‘word was first coined in the book If I Ran a Zoo by Dr Seuss’. The answer was Nerd! This immediately caught If-i-ran-the-zoo-cover (1).jpgmy attention because Dr Seuss is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. I adored his books when I was young and tried to pass on the love to my children by reading out his quirky verses night after night, twisting our tongues over his wonderful, wacky invented words.

But it is only now I discovered that the word Nerd is thought to have been coined by none other than Dr Seuss in his book If I Ran a Zoo published in 1950! The book is about a boy named Gerald McGrew who, when visiting a zoo, finds that the exotic animals are “not good enough”. He says that if he ran the zoo, he would let all of the current animals free and find new, more bizarre and exotic ones. Among these fantastical animals is a critter called a Nerd! To quote directly: “And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo/And bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo/ A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!”

One year later, in 1951, Newsweek magazine included the word in an article using it to define someone who is a “drip” or a “square”. Today the word ‘nerdy’ is used to describe someone who is not attractive, and awkward or socially embarrassing; or someone who is extremely interested in one subject, especially computers, and knowing a lot of facts.

A ‘word-nerd’ would tell you that when we use Twitter, and Tweet away today, it would be worth remembering that the word was coined by Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the father of English poetry, who died 620 years ago, to describe the continuous chirping of a bird.

And that, well before a search engine was named Yahoo, the Yahoos appeared as legendary creatures in Gulliver’s Travels published in 1726.

Surprisingly a number of words that we tend to believe are so ‘trending’ and ‘21st century’ were coined well over a hundred years ago. These can be attributed to 19th century authors, many of whom were creative wordsmiths–inventing, importing, adapting, and generally messing about with language!

The revered Bard, Shakespeare was one of the first to print words like Obscene and Eventful, as well as much-used phrases such as Bated Breath and Love is Blind.

And for those of us who plodded through Charles Dickens it is he, himself who coined the word Boredom! Writing in the early 1800s Dickens also coined very not-boring words like Abuzz, Flummox, and Devil-May-Care!

And to think that bureaucratic red tape is an affliction of modern times, Wait! The word Red Tape comes from the English practice of using red or pink tape to tie official documents and,  as early as 1851 Dickens coined the apt term ‘red tape’ as slang for “the collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something, especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming.” Thus according to the OED, a Red Tape-worm’ is “a person who adheres excessively to official rules and formalities.” Sounds like a breed we all know too well!?

For those of us who describe our calling as ‘Freelance’ writers, we may be interested to learn that in 1820 author Sir Walter Scott used the term free-lance to describe a mercenary soldier, one whose lance (a long spear) was not exclusively in the service of a single master, but was hired out along with its owner to those to needed, and paid for, the service.

Today the lance has replaced by the pen (or its electronic version) but the nature of service remains the same!

–Mamata

 

Ant Man

The other day my grand-nephew, not quite nine months old and just starting to discover the world around him, was crawling towards a line of ants on the veranda. Immediately there was a chorus of calls from the vigilant adults around him. “Be careful, the ants will bite him”. “Be alert that he doesn’t put a few in his mouth!” “Mind the ants don’t get into his clothes.” The little boy was picked up and taken away many times, and just as many times he determinedly crawled right back to the tiny creatures that were neatly marching away on their own business.

The ants took me back to my early days as an environmental educator. One of the first publications of CEE was a simple 8-pager called Ant. I was fascinated at how much one could write about creatures that were either not noticed, or when noticed, decried as pests! Further down the line I ended up putting together an entire teaching-learning manual on Insects. Besides opening up a whole new world this also led me to EO Wilson whose writings became a great inspiration, not just for what he studied, but equally for how wonderfully he shared his thoughts.

Edward Osborne Wilson is not just the world’s foremost authority on the study of ants (a myrmecologist!) but one of the founding fathers of, and leading expert in, biodiversity. His autobiography titled Naturalist traces his evolution as a scientist. Young Wilson knew early that he wanted to be scientist. A childhood accident left him with weak eyesight and hearing, so instead of focussing on animals and birds he concentrated on studying the miniature creatures. Thus the dreamy child turned into the focused scientist. Naturalist also reveals how these steps from daydream to determined endeavour involved a mix of random encounter, enthusiasm and opportunism.

My little nephew’s first explorations reminded me of EO Wilson’s words. “Why do I tell you this little boy’s story of medusa rays, and sea monsters nearly sixty years after the fact? Because it illustrates, I think, how a naturalist is created. A child comes to the edge of deep water with a mind prepared for wonder. He is like a primitive adult of long ago, an acquisitive Homo arriving at the shore of Lake Malawi, say, or the Mozambique Channel….The child is ready to grasp this archetype, to explore and learn, but he has few words to describe his guiding emotions. Instead he is given a compelling image that will serve in later life as a talisman, transmitting a powerful energy that directs the growth of experience and knowledge. But the core image stays intact. When an adult he will find it curious, if he is at all reflective, that he has the urge to travel all day to fish or to watch sunsets on the ocean horizon.”

In the current age of over-protective parenting, and educational systems that feel that rote learning is the key to science, EO Wilson’s words hold truer than ever: “Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.” 

–Mamata

 

The BBC Connect

I recently attended a thought-provoking talk by anthropologist and storyteller Gauri Raje on autobiographical storytelling and personal stories. Gauri, an old friend, now lives and works in the UK with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. For several years  Gauri has worked, through biographical storytelling, with ‘displaced people’ from many parts of the world–refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, seeking to start a new life in England. Through workshops involving story telling and story making, these people, uprooted from all that was familiar, in a precarious situation regarding their future in a strange and alien culture, were encouraged to tell  personal stories that they have never told in public. Gauri shared some of her many heart-rending, heart touching exchanges with these fragile people. The stories they shared were tales of incredible grit and resilience.

One of the stories was of a young Sudanese man who entered England as a stowaway clinging to the undercarriage of the Chunnel train. When the young man reported to the local police station where he had stepped onto English soil, he found that he could not understand the English that the police spoke. In an interesting aside to his story, he was emphatic that this was not at all like the English that he had heard spoken over the BBC radio that he listened to when he was in his home country!

While this revelation had its own impact (and that is another story!), it reminded me of a book I read a few months ago which, curiously, was based on another BBC connection. This was the true story of an unlikely friendship between a journalist with the BBC World Service in London and a Professor of English in war-battered Baghdad.

It began in 2005 when Bee Rowlatt, the journalist emailed May Witwit an Iraqi woman to confirm and prepare for a telephone interview about day-to-day life in Baghdad, and about her thoughts on the forthcoming elections there. May’s detailed and frank responses prompted more curiosity and questions from Bee, and a friendship developed between the two women. The “official BBC e-mail” planted the seeds of a correspondence that spanned from 2005-2008, with the two women sharing their news and thoughts about their work, family and life—at some levels-the social and political-poles apart, and yet so close in terms of shared emotions—despondency, depression, laughter and love.

The correspondence developed into a project to get May out of the dangerous and unhappy life in Iraq to seek asylum in Britain. The e-mails traces the challenges and travails in this venture—to gain asylum status and enough money to start a new life in a new land. Interestingly, here also the e-mail correspondence turned out to be key to this – its publication in book form helped to raise funds so May could prove that she had the financial support to come with her husband, to study in Britain.

The book is titled Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad: the True Story of an Unlikely Friendship

 I am sure Gauri has facilitated many such stories to be told and shared from people in similar circumstances and I hope, some day, to hear some of these stories from her.

For now, it is for me just to share a coincidence of two stories that had a BBC Connect in their own special way.

–Mamata

 

I Wonder

While I soak in the sunshine on a pleasantly cool Ahmedabad winter day I read that the big Arctic chill has hit North America and Europe. It’s cold, cold, cold! News reports show how the blanket of snow has brought life to a standstill, and people are being interviewed to share how they are coping.

I remember a poem that wonders how the Snow itself must feel.

SNOW PILE

Snow on top
must feel chilly
the cold moonlight piercing it.

 Snow on the bottom
must feel burdened
by the hundreds who tread on it.

 Snow in the middle
must feel lonely
with neither earth nor sky to look at.

The poem was written in the 1920s by a young Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko. “Teru” as she was called, was born in 1903 in a family of booksellers in a small fishing village in western Japan.  The book-loving child was encouraged to study by her mother and grandmother, and she stayed in school until she was 18, a rare achievement for Japanese girls at the time. She began writing poetry at age 20, and signed her work “Misuzu”, in an allusion to classical Japanese literature meaning “where the bamboo is reaped.”

In her poetry, Misuzu would share her sense of curiosity and wonder–What does snow feel in a drift?  Where does day end and night begin?  Why don’t adults ask the questions children do?   “To Misuzu, everything was alive and had its own feelings—plants, rocks, even telephone poles! She felt the loneliness of whale calves orphaned after a hunt. She felt the night-time chill of cicadas who had shed their old shells. And she felt the tearful sadness of a flower wet with dew.”

Sadly her personal life was tragic and she committed suicide when she was only 27 years old. Kaneko and her work were forgotten for the next 50 years. The only known copy of her poems had been destroyed during the bombing of Tokyo in WWII. The bookstore where she once worked was long gone. No one seemed to know if she had any surviving family. It is only in the 1980s that another Japanese poet Setsuo Yazaki, recovered her poetry manuscripts and these were published.

Today, almost a 100 years later, Kaneko’s poems remain as fresh and moving with their innocent sense of wonder.

I wonder why
the rain that falls from black clouds
shines like silver.


I wonder why
the silkworm that eats green mulberry leaves
is so white.


I wonder why
the moonflower that no one tends
blooms on its own.


I wonder why
everyone I ask
about these things
laughs and says, “That’s just how it is.”

If only we could all retain that magical sense of wonder rather than simply accepting “That’s just how it is.”

–Mamata

 

A Celebration of Solitude

I was introduced to Ruskin Bond over 30 years ago by Uncle Ken and Rusty. These were the characters in the first books that I translated. I so enjoyed the madcap adventures of the eccentric Uncle Ken and the restless school boy Rusty, not just for the stories but for the simple style of writing and the lovely use of language. As a translator it was a challenge to try to retain the spirit and the form in another language.

Following this introduction I continued to follow Ruskin Bond on his wanderings and meanderings through his essays and columns. Here was someone who was not only sensitive to, and entranced by every minute detail of nature, but one who could share this evocatively through words.

When Ruskin Bond’s autobiography was published just over a year ago, I was curious and eager to fill in the blanks and to know more about Ruskin the person. I recently read the book called Lone Fox Dancing: My Autobiography.  In it saw how many parts of his own life have been woven in his writings. Ruskin’s story is simply told and flows gently through eight decades, capturing flavours of the life of the angrez and the Anglo-Indians from the colonial times, through the Second World War, India’s partition and the birth and development of the new republic.

Ruskin writes about family and friends, travels and travails, painting word pictures that make one feel as if one is leafing through a real photo album. As he wrote “That’s what life is really like—episodic, full of highs and lows and some fairly dull troughs in between. Life is not a novel, it does not have the organisation of a novel. People are not characters in a play; they refuse to conform to the exigencies of a plot or a set of scenes. Some people become an integral part of our lives; others are ships that pass in the night. Short stories, in fact.”

For me there were “Eureka” moments when one recognized the people who became memorable characters in many of his stories. I marveled at the memory that could conjure up images from sixty-seventy years ago, but I also learnt the value of keeping a journal, something that Ruskin has done since his school days.

Above all, what the book reiterated was the celebration of solitude.  Ruskin Bond is not a recluse nor one who shuns human contact. As a boy he writes that he was lonely, “loneliness that was not of my seeking. The solitude I sought. And found.” This solitude he found in nature, nature is the companion that has sustained and energized him over eighty years, and with it, the magic of the words to share the joy with others.

“I’m like a lone fox dancingIMG_20190126_102042 (2).jpg

In the morning dew.”

–Mamata

 

 

Dear Sir,

In school, one of the standard writing exercises in our language classes was to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. We were encouraged to think about issues—from local to global—and express our considered opinion on the same in the letter. It was also an exercise in the proper form of address, the clear enunciation of views, and discipline of expressing what we had to say in limited words.

It was not only the writing, but also the reading of letters to editors in newspapers that was an integral part of the morning newspaper reading ritual. Over the years, it was comforting to know that the right hand column on the middle page of my newspaper would carry the day’s letters. Over time, one became familiar with some of the ‘regular’ writers, and were amused, appalled, or in silent agreement with the views expressed.

In recent times this part of the daily newspaper has been disappearing in many papers. In the age of social media, people express their views instantly, in the required number of characters. The almost knee-jerk reaction to happenings invokes an equally instant avalanche of responses. And, then, a new day begins with a fresh news-storm as it were.

Long before all this, it was a tradition of newspapers around the world to carry their readers’ opinions, thoughts, questions, and outrage on the news of the day.  What is it that motivates people to write these letters? Letter writers do not receive material compensation for their efforts, but do enjoy rewards such as publicity, or satisfaction from directly or indirectly influencing public discourse. And most newspapers still honour and respect this sharing from their readers by giving them the space to be seen and heard.

Newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post receive thousands of letters to the editor  every year. Letter writers respond to news articles and opinions, and often take the newspaper to task for how it operates.  At the end of the year the Washington Post puts up on its website a selection of the novel, thoughtful and funny insights that readers submitted that year, sorted by the date they appeared in print and subject matter.

Other newspapers are also encouraging of the art of writing to newspapers. As the  associate editor of an Irish newspaper puts it, “In a world where social commentary is now almost free of any kind of professional oversight — or curating, to use today’s vernacular — the letters columns of mature, honest newspapers are, as they ever were, a reliable weather vane of how a society feels on certain issues. They are a kind of a social pulse giving an insight into the health–in the broadest terms–of the nation. They are direct, from-the-heart commentary.”

The power of “Dear Sir”…is evident in the case of the letter to the Times from a seven-year old girl from the Isle of Man. It read ‘Sir, Yours faithfully, Caroline Sophia Kerenhappuch Parkes.’ The brief epistle was intended to inform readers of her unusual name Kerenhappuch which had been mentioned in a letter the previous week on the subject of uncommon 19th century names.

I for one do look forward to seeing the column back in all newspapers.

–Mamata

 

Navigating a Book

It has probably happened to all of us at some time. We read a book, and we love it. We urge our friends to read it, but when they do, they react to it in a very different way—find it unreadable even. I had always attributed this to different tastes. And then, sometimes a book by an author that I know and like just does not hold my attention, and I don’t quite ‘get into it’ as it were. I attribute this to my ‘mood’ or state of mind.

Interestingly, I recently came across a piece by the famous German author Herman Hesse that helps to explain why this happens. In an essay titled On Reading Books written in 1920, Hesse describes what could be called the ‘taxonomy’ of readers. He argues that just as people have different temperaments and attitudes towards anything in the world, these also affect our personality as readers. He outlines three key types of reader personalities, which can coexist within a single reader over the course of a lifetime.

The first type he calls the naive reader—“one who assumes that a book is there simply and solely to be read faithfully and attentively and who experiences a book merely as content.” Such a reader consumes a book as he consumes a loaf of bread, or sleeps because there is a bed.

The second type of reader is one “who is endowed with childlike wonderment, who sees past the superficialities of content to plumb the depths of the writer’s creative impulse. This reader treasures neither the substance nor the form of a book as its single most important value. He knows, in the way children know, that every object can have ten or a hundred meanings for the mind. For such a mind the bread becomes a mountain to bore tunnels into, and the bed a cave, a garden, a snow field.” This kind of reader may be described as an imaginative investigator.

Next comes the final type of reader, who is really a non-reader but rather a dreamer and interpreter: “He is so completely an individual, so very much himself, that he confronts his reading matter with complete freedom. He wishes neither to educate nor to entertain himself, he uses a book exactly like any other object in the world, for him it is simply a point of departure and a stimulus. Essentially it makes no difference to him what he reads. He does not need a philosopher in order to learn from him, to adopt his teaching, or to attack or criticize him. He does not read a poet to accept his interpretation of the world; he interprets it for himself. He is, if you like, completely a child. He plays with everything — and from one point of view there is nothing more fruitful and rewarding than to play with everything. If this reader finds a beautiful sentence in a book, a truth, a word of wisdom, he begins by experimentally turning it upside down.”

“This reader is able, or rather each one of us is able, at the hour in which he is at this stage, to read whatever he likes, a novel or grammar, a railroad timetable, a galley proof from the printer. At the hour when our imagination and our ability to associate are at their height, we really no longer read what is printed on the paper but swim in a stream of impulses and inspirations that reach us from what we are reading. They may come out of the text, they may simply emerge from the type face. An advertisement in a newspaper can become a revelation; the most exhilarating, the most affirmative thoughts can spring from a completely irrelevant word if one turns it about, playing with its letters as with a jigsaw puzzle. In this stage one can …play with the words, letters, and sounds, and thereby take a tour through the hundred kingdoms of knowledge, memory, and thought”.

Before we begin to analyse where we fit into this taxonomy, Hesse reminds us that “no one of us need belong permanently to any one of these types. Each mode of reading is necessary for a full life, but it is insufficient in and of itself.”

He goes on to urge “For just once in your life remain for an hour, a day at the third stage, the stage of not-reading-any-more. You will thereafter (it’s so easy to slip back) be that much better a reader, that much better a listener and interpreter of everything written.”

–Mamata