Loin clothes and Logophilia

This morning Jannat who comes to study school stuff most days at my house was labelling the Indian states on an outline map (which I am happy to note costs 50 paise each). She has been out of school a couple of years so her handwriting is a little rusty. Today I found myself saying, "Half the effort in maps is learning to label neatly. No, Jannat, neatly. No, smaller letters. It must be legible..." I don't know who was more shocked at this unprecedented prissiness, Jannat or I. Jannat, who has seen the rat's nest the flat is on most mornings, was kind and did not snarl at me. I reeled when I realised I must have been channeling the spirit of Mrs Philomena who taught me geography in 5th standard. With gruesome clarity I can hear her laughing at my slightly kakka efforts at colouring maps. Her most incomprehensible insult was 'Your maps are like cinema posters!'

Thinking of Mrs Philomena immediately reminded me of Swaminathan, little Swami, the prototype Iyer nerd with his flagrant chandanam and firm opinions who suffered acutely in Mrs.Philomena's class. In 5th standard we had a section on Africa, which included several photographs of Masai and Pgymy families. On the fateful day that we were to read the much-looked-forward-to lesson on Pygmy culture and lifestyle, Swami was asked to read. The pages he had to read had a standard issue picture of a group of Pygmy adults and children in fig-leaves. So Swami began to read having reached what he thought was a compromise. Holding the book in his right hand, he stood. He began reading while deftly using his left hand to cover the offensive photograph. The teacher barked at him because obviously, her prissiness was restricted to cartographic aesthetics. (She also laughed at me in Art class because my ducks in the pond, she said, looked like they were pregnant with twins.)Swami protested wildly against having to look at the shame-shame-puppy-shame of adult women but Mrs Philomena was tougher than the Wolverine's cranium. Swami was forced to take his palm off the page, hold the book with both hands and read the Pages of Shame. I want to ask Swami, whereever he is now (and by this I mean whereever he is in Mountainview or San Jose or Redmond or Armonk) have you forgiven her yet? And do you writhe when you have to supervise your children's homework?

In other news, I am in love with a software called Rosetta Stone. Oh the joys of being able to say 'Boy under a ball' over and over again in Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. Of course, I am also incredibly greedy and am counting the moments till I can install the Oxford English Dictionary, in its luscious fullness, in my computer. I have visions of a polyglot Lara Croft like future, in which I can swim, raid tombs, run around nude and order idlis in Swahili. And also speak to boys under balls.


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