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Know it as you hear it

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The big question: read it aloud to imprint it in the mind?

One twos are two. Two twos are four.

The voice still rings in my ear, rhythm and intonation intact. Adding the background score is the sound of footsteps, pacing up and down the hallway.

These sounds echoed through a rousing household, long before the sun came up. Homes with school-going kids had a special ring to them. The healthy sound of studying.

Arasu, milking the cow in the backyard, knew, having heard the statement ad nauseam, that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. It’s quite another thing that Arasu continued to work his fingers without working his mind on the gentleman concerned. His subconscious replayed for a lifetime — Napoleon. Waterloo. The inflection was seductively addictive.

Senior prompt

Or, it was not unusual for the stern octogenarian rocking in his armchair and fanning himself at the same time with the morning newspaper to rap you on the head and prompt, “Photosynthesis da!” when you played the broken record: “the process by which plants harness energy from sunlight into chemical energy is known as… (a gaping blank)… the process by which plants harness energy from sunlight into chemical energy is known as… (again gaping blank).

All through my growing-up years, I believed that the persistent demand from my parents that my siblings and I read aloud, while pacing the hallway, was to assure them that we were awake and studying. We obliged with a befitting crescendo that lasted as long as the examinations did. If our voices dared to trail off, an umm, ummm from any elder in the vicinity was adequate warning to turn up the volume.

Seeking sounds

Somewhere between the pauses in the monologue, time caught up and I became parent to a bonny boy. While the early years sped by uneventfully, the teenage years were painfully quiet. With my ear stuck to his ‘closed-for-most-part-of-the day’ door, I strained to hear some reassuring sounds. Only pin drop silence permeated through the shiny laminate.

At mealtimes, I casually dropped a gem (strategic, I thought). “It’s good to read out loud, son.”

“Why?” I still cannot tell if the grimace was more menacing or was it the tone?

Statement and a shrug

“Well,” I said with a shrug that I thought suggested it was not so important. “Maybe it helps.” A forced chuckle and another rehearsed shrug thrown in for good measure.

The briefly unplugged ear phone promptly found its way back, shutting out all hope of further dialogue.

At times, when the tolerance threshold loomed dangerously close, I raised my voice two notches higher. “How can you study when you have music blaring in your ears? You will learn only the hard way when you get miserable marks,” I ended on a predictable climax. All I wanted was to ‘hear’ him study. ‘Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing played on in his ears.

Time flew and so did my son. Armed with a post-graduate degree in his impressive repertoire, he’s back. We now have adult to adult conversations, no earphone threatening to gag me. We laugh about my partiality towards ‘loudness’. We retrieve memories of him sprawled on the bed, text book in hand, earphone plugged in.

Quiet operator

He got through school with a brilliant report card. He stands in front of me, a dashing young man. He did all of this quietly, soundlessly, silently. I rest my case.

Until I recently stumbled upon an article in the Harvard Business Review, ‘Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn’. “To learn something, explain it to yourself out loud,” Ulrich Boser wrote.

Aha! It’s time to reopen the case and make some noise!

lata@thehumanimpact.in

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 2:35:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/know-it-as-you-hear-it/article20916742.ece

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