Learning from illiterates


Umm...how do I say that?

Umm...how do I say that?

THE BEST lessons in life are often learnt from illiterates.

My younger son is an illiterate. I guess all children under two are.

His vocabulary has exactly 11 words. And most of them are mispronounced.

He doesn’t care. For, he takes less than 30 seconds to make you understand what he wants. Or make you see what he wants you to by using only two words at a time.

His word-economy taught me something – I don’t require 1,000 words for a story that can be told in 250. Not at least in this age of Twitter.

The little devil reminded me of a MAD chapter on Baron Marquis de Sade. It condensed all of the Baron’s “literary works” in one word – Ouch!

He also reminded me of James Hadley Chase. “She had a figure full of ideas – mine, not hers!” he wrote in one of his thrillers. Why write reams on a woman’s physical attributes when you can size her up in 10 words?

Reetom taught me something else – nothing on earth or in the universe is mundane enough not to be happy about.

So I jump around with him whenever he revels at Chanmama (Uncle Moon). And do a little jig together when we spot a bug or a lizard stalking it. Even a motionless creepy-crawly is a source of joy.

My new-found happiness is not without a selfish reason, though. The hop-skip-jump routine with Reetom is the only exercise my body is subjected to other than the one that led to his birth. And yes, it keeps him from messing up my elder son’s study table or causing havoc in the kitchen.

This 2½ feet illiterate refreshed memory of a much taller one I had come across in Uttar Pradesh – Phoolan Devi.

Suphal Kumar of the United News of India and I were the first non-vernacular reporters to travel with the former Bandit Queen during the campaign for her maiden Lok Sabha election from Bhadohi in 1996. I was with The Indian Express then, based at Varanasi.

She was confidence personified. Confidence, she said, that came from using as less words as possible to control a bunch of wild male outlaws. And from observing the creepy-crawlies and bugs adapt to conditions in the beehad of Chambal.

I never was much of a talker. I am learning to unlearn what I learnt when I started writing for a living – and showing off my range of vocabulary.

I know Reetom will use more words as he grows up. His literacy will take him beyond the lizards and bugs. Chandra, too, unless he gets involved in a mission that burns money and the yaan!

If he doesn’t, blame it on what might come after Twitter. A messaging service entailing only two words or 10 characters, perhaps. Or a wordless communication device.

But if he does, his child could teach him to say more for less. And be happy watching the creepy-crawlies do the mundane.

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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10 Responses to Learning from illiterates

  1. Sudeepta Barua says:

    what a suvject to write on! your recent grappling with 1000-250 must have inspired it. great!

    among others – a special mention to your excersice portion!! it floored me, literally! it was ultimate! it made my intestine branch branch (pator naari daal daal).

    GREAT! a lot to learn.

    at present it is a bit differnt than mundane. come over tomorrow. if you don’t have excersice with your kid. i’ve considered some of your sugesstions and a few more pages are now looking better!

  2. Sudeepta Barua says:

    that’s even better! contradicting your own topic of how to precise! you’ve still got to learn a lot from kiddo!!

  3. ketaki says:

    impressed at the way you can articulate your thoughts…. one has been through similar experiences as the children grew up and these thoughts did in fact cross one’s mind too at the time in similar situations when kids just stick their fingers in the direction of an object and say “…etu…” and grown ups jump to their bidding…..
    On a slightly different note….do you know that there is a community of people living deep inside the valleys of East Khasi hills that speak in ‘sounds’ like the bush people of South Africa …… ? We heard about them recently in our interactions with someone whom we are supporting in Mawphlang area…… they too would count as illiterate, but seemingly they have a repository of knowledge about locally available medicinal plants, herbs etc and their use in traditional medicine….

  4. rahconteur says:

    Wish they never grow up to find out how complex grown ups and the world are!

  5. Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya

  6. ranjib says:

    what does Reetom means?? something similar to Preetam here in this part of the counrtry???

    Be precise …..pls ; )

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