It irked us no end and yet he stood his ground. Cribbing or cajoling didn’t help nor did begging and bribes . We just had to do as told whether we liked it or not. More than four decades later I am thankful for his persistence which bordered on stubbornness.
As kids, all of us siblings were voracious readers. We would read anything we could lay our hands on, books, magazines, novels. We would even finish each others course books before the term started. And although we didn’t read anything profound we just loved immersing ourselves in the written word. The problem arose when we came across some indecipherable word. We would ask dad the meaning and his reply was always the same. ” Look it up in the dictionary. ” His logic
was twofold, that we would learn the exact meaning and while using the dictionary we might take in an extra word or two.
Theoretically it sounds very reasonable but practically it was frustrating. Imagine being in the midst of some very interesting narrative and having to take a break to check the dictionary.
We would complain constantly but had to do it nonetheless. He was relentless and there was no way around it. As we grew older, we devised the method of ‘ploughing through’. We would read on, and deduce the word’s meaning by its context. So as adults if not the exact, we generally knew the approximate meaning of a lot of words.
This was possible because there was never a dearth of reading material in the house which was quite a feat for someone trying to raise four kids on an ‘honest’ government salary. Books were simply above sanction. Once when I was deliberating whether to buy one because of its exorbitant price, dad said that a book, in itself, is priceless. It is not expensive if you read it and learn something and its not cheap if you buy it but don’t read it. Somehow his philosophy has stuck and I have read some pretty crappy books just because I had bought them. Its not that I didn’t learn from them. If nothing else, I learnt what I don’t like.
So when recently the editor of Hindu commented that I had an exceptional vocabulary for a ‘doctor’ ( am not sure whether he meant it as a compliment!) , I silently thanked dad for forcing us to discover what a word means on our own.
He turns eighty today. Happy birthday dad. Keep teaching…..and keep learning.