How does one go to a new school in the ninth standard, only to be told that one has to study parts of the eighth standard portions as well? Not very happily, I must confess, because that was the situation I walked into a school in Kerala to complete my ninth and tenth.
Since the text books were all new, a couple of tuition teachers were arranged for me, so that they could try and knock some sense into my head. Which is exactly what happened! I had an amazingly strict master to teach me Maths and Physics, and a holy terror he was too, because he was slated to be the next Headmaster of a boys’ school. He would come at the dot of six in the evening, spend exactly two hours with me, and leave me feeling quite knowledgeable, for a change. Not surprisingly, my highest marks were in Physics, followed by Mathematics, a fact that made my parents quite swoon!
On the other hand, my Biology Master would come at nine in the night after a gruelling day at school, at a time when I had also eaten a sumptuous dinner, and we would sit in the study. His son was also in my class and both of us would study together. The first bout would start with our Master yawning deeply while he opened the text book, to point out the portion he wanted us to follow.
We would peer at him in the dimness, as he read out bits that he wanted to explain, and by the time he had finished para one, I would be nodding away. Suddenly, he would put out a meaty hand and knock me on the head so hard that sleep would take to its heels, and keep a safe distance. The next bout would be a knock on my companion’s head, an even harder one, as maybe, he had a rounder and harder nut.
When the results came, my masters were ecstatic, as all the knocks and the swotting had ensured that I got really good marks.
“Now it is time for you to take your first step towards Medicine!” said my Physics Master, twirling his moustache proudly. Had I not topped my class in Physics? My Biology Master followed suit. “You will find the PCM (Physics-Chemistry-Mathematics) Group a cakewalk!” he said.
That is when I shocked them out of their wits! “But I do not want to take the Second Group!” I proclaimed boldly. “And I will never take up Medicine!”
“Don’t you want to be a doctor?” quavered my Biology Master, quite certain that his frequent knocks had quite addled my brain.
My decision was final. I would take the Humanities Group, and then take up Literature for my Graduation! The expression on both their faces was ludicrous. For a moment there was total silence, and then they started a tirade that would have swayed anyone who had even the slightest inkling towards Science.
Unfortunately for them, I was made of stronger mettle. Literature it would be!
“Literature!” the disgust in my Physics Master’s tone was palpable. “What will you do with Literature? There is no future in it? You will not even get a job!”
“Besides, only duds and failures take up Literature!” came the other Master’s voice. “Or girls whose parents want to get them married off early!”
That was when I realized that this was the refrain I would hear for years to come. There were classmates, who had taken up Math and Science, who would walk up to me and ask, “Literature? Are you serious?” They meant, “Are you crazy?”
My aunts and uncles, who were doctors, tried their luck with me, but to no avail. I had nightmares in which I saw myself in a giant operating theatre, with a scalpel in my hand. I would try and make a tentative cut on the patient before me, but before I could do so, he would rise, bandaged and bleeding, and come towards me like one of those monsters in a horror movie.
Finally my parents put their foot down.
“Let her do what she wants to do!” they said to all those who raised objections. “No, she is not crazy! Nor are we!” I could hear them over the phone.
Did I ever regret my decision? Not for one moment! “To be or not to be” was never a dilemma with me.
I drowned myself in the History of Language, and deciphered the strange tongue of Chaucer; my heart skipped a beat as I unravelled the characters of Mr. Darcy, Heathcliff and even Atticus Finch, and walked along the pastoral greens of Wordsworth and Keats, the moors of Emily Bronte and the England of Dickens.
I rolled my tongue around the accents of the Welsh bards, and dived into the voices of Twain and Hemingway, loving every luxurious moment. I loved Oscar Wilde and Oliver Goldsmith, and when unwilling fellow litterateurs found tragedy in the comedies of Shakespeare, and were caught in the rimes of Milton, I sympathized with them, for they would never find the deep spring of joy that ran within the world of Literature.
Years after, I completed my post graduation in Literature, my B.Ed in English and finally, did a course in Journalism. When I began writing articles and stories in earnest, and published my first book in 2002, people around me finally realized that I had been on the right track all along.
When my daughter also took up Humanities, life had come round full circle. Luckily, by then, the world had moved on, and there was no one around to ask, “Literature? Are you serious?”