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Stories for a life

Has the range of supplementary reading material prescribed in school curricula shrunk?

 

The supplementary readers that came along with the English text books were a wonderful read in our student years. They contained stories that made space in our minds, carrying their impact for a lifetime. The fact that I still remember a few of them proves that. The three stories I would love to recollect are, ‘The bet’ by Anton Chekhov, ‘A letter to God’ by Gregorio Lopez and ‘The blanket’ by Floyd Dell.

‘The bet’ deals with a bet between a rich banker and a young lawyer over whether capital punishment is better or worse than a life in prison. The young lawyer argues for a life in prison rather than an end to life itself. They agree on a bet of two million roubles that the young lawyer can’t spend 15 years of his life in solitary confinement.

The lawyer in his 15 years in prison moves through years of loneliness, depression and myriad emotions. He embraces books and starts reading voraciously, traversing numerous subjects, from science to language to philosophy. On the last night of the fifteenth year he escapes from prison, losing the bet, thus saving the banker from his plans to kill the lawyer to avoid penury as he is no more in a position to pay two million roubles. The lawyer declares that the books have made him wiser than anyone else and by that he renounces the bet money and all the worldly pseudo pleasures!

‘A letter to God’ is a satire that pictures a farmer, Lencho, who loses his field of corn to a hailstorm. With the immense belief that no one will die of hunger, he writes a letter to God and drops it in the nearby post office. The postman who reads the letter bursts into a hearty laugh. The postmaster on reading the letter decides not to leave the poor farmer disillusioned. They succeed in raising an amount just more than the half of what Lencho has asked for in his letter. On receiving the letter Lencho is disappointed at the amount he has received. He writes another letter to God saying he has received only a part of the money and asks to send the rest of the money but not though the post office as the post office employees are a bunch of crooks!

‘The blanket’ is a story that revolves around a small boy and his grandfather. The father is getting ready to send the grandpa to an old age home and the blanket is a going-away gift. When his father’s pretty girlfriend complains about the costly double blanket being given away, the grandson brings a pair of scissors and asks his dad to cut it into two and asks him to keep the other half safely as it will be useful later. When asked what he means by that, the grandson tells his dad, ‘I mean, dad, when you grow older, I will have to give it to you as a going-away gift’.

These stories didn’t come with a moral in the end but it definitely made us move in our chairs. There were lots of lessons to take out of these wonderful stories and what to take was left to our imaginative, thoughtful, maturing minds. They taught us life and the value of life.

Recently I went through the prescribed NCERT supplementary books. To my great surprise I found that none of these stories had made it to the updated or edited books. I wondered if there were more such beautiful stories that had replaced the earlier ones and made a bigger impact in teaching life and values to young minds. I think we may have to sit and rethink what exactly we are teaching young minds of this generation.

ashokbbalakrishna@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 4:00:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/stories-for-a-life/article18061732.ece

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