How I Taught My Grandmother to Read – Story by Sudha Murthy
Para 1 … I was about twelve then. I lived with my grandparents in a North Karnataka village. Transport to this place was quite basic / rudimentary. Life seemed to move rather slowly. The morning paper came in the afternoon. The weekly magazine came a day late. We waited with baited breath for the bus that carried these and the day’s post.
Para 2 … Triveni, the story writer, was a household name during those days. Her stories revolved around common folks. In her typical lucid style, she deftly handled the intriguing problems by the many common characters portrayed in her writings. Sadly, this talented Kannada writer died very young. Nearly four decades after Triveni’s demise, the enduring attraction of her books continues to charm the hearts of countless readers.
Para 3 … Her novel Kashi Yatre serialized in the Kannada weekly Karmaveera, deals with the life of a old lady yearning to go to Kashi (Varanasi) to earn the much-cherished punya that accrues to the devotees of Lord Vishweshara. The novel describes the travails of the lady in undertaking the arduous journey to Kashi. The old lady happens to meet an orphan girl, deeply in love. But, the poor young girl can not afford the expenses of her marriage. The old lady is engulfed with sympathy for the young love-lorn girl, and decides to donate all her savings so that the marriage could go through. The old lady in the twilight of her life is swept by compassion. She feels ensuring the happiness of a young orphan girl is more important than a darshan of the Lord Vishweshara.
Para 4 …. My grandmother Krishtakka never set foot in school, so she could not read. On Wednesdays, when the magazine came, I would read out the stories to her. She was a keen listener. Obviously she enjoyed what she heard. So great was her interest that she could repeat the contents effortlessly after my reading out sessions were over.
Krishtakka had never gone to Kashi. Quite unusually for a woman tied to family and wealth, she empathized with the benevolent old lady in Kashi Yatre who helped the orphan girl meet her marriage ceremony expenses. The old lady in the story had to cancel her trip to Kashi so that she could give away her life’s savings for the young girl’s happiness.
My grandmother followed the progress of the story in every new issue of the magazine. I did my part in reading out the installments of Kashi Yatre with unfailing interest.
Para 5 … After listening to each of the episode, my grand mother used to join her friends in the temple courtyard for discussion that appeared to be quite animated at times. We children playing nearby did not make much sense of what the women were so agitated about.
Para 6 … Once I went on a sojourn to a nearby village to attend a wedding. I had a great time there with plenty of time to engage in fun and frolic with my friends. There were all sorts of mouth-watering foods to eat. We ate to our hearts’ content.
Para 7 .. Agony awaited me when I returned to my village. For the first time, I saw my ever-jovial grandmother in tears. I began to get really worried.
Para 8 .. I asked her, “Avva, what’s wrong with you? What makes you so distressed?”
Para 9 … ‘Avva’ is the name we call our grandmothers in North Karnataka.
Para 10 … She did not respond to my query about the cause of her grief. I could understand nothing from her silence. In the night, after dinner, I went to sleep beside her on the terrace. The full moon had set the whole terrace alight.
Avva sat beside me and rested her hands on my forehead. She wanted to say something.
Para 11 … With a voice heavy with sadness, she reminisced about her childhood days. She told me how, after her mother’s passing away, she grew up without maternal care. Her father took a second wife. Girls seldom went to school those days. She stayed home with no opportunity to learn how to read and write.
She was married off rather early and had a few children. The burden of motherhood weighed her down. In due course, she became a grandmother. Doing household chores became her main duty. She regretted her missing out school education. But, this feeling of lost opportunity made her determined to ensure that the children in the family were not deprived of education.
Para 12 …. For me, a twelve-year-old girl, accompanying her 62-year-old mother in a journey down the memory lane was quite intriguing. But, I knew there were some compelling reasons that made my Avva recount the unhappy experiences of her past. Beset with emotions, her smiling beautiful face had become pale with anguish.
Para 13 … I said with all my sympathy, “Avva, what makes you so sad? What can I do for you?”
Para 14 .. She opened up. She said how the copies of the Karmaveera magazine had arrived during my absence, but I was not there to read out the favourite Kashi Yatre episode to her. She opened the pages and saw the pictures. That made her more disappointed. In desperation, she rubbed the pages with her hand to see if she could make out into the contents. That made her more repentant.
She realized how her lack of education had condemned her to lifelong drudgery, with no access to books.
My grandmother felt my absence all the more because with me had gone the pleasure of the Kashi Yatre episodes.
She grew restless. So great was her desire to know what had happened next in Kashi Yatre that she thought of proceeding to the village where I had gone. There I could read out the un-read magazine to her. But, it was too absurd an idea. She stayed behind waiting for my return and brooding over her fate.
Para 15 .. I did not know how to respond, and let Avva continue.
Para 16 .. Avva made her intention clear. She had made up her mind to learn Kannada alphabets from the next day. She was going to press very hard. Saraswati Pooja during Dassara would be the day she would finish her Kannada reading project.
That would be the day of her deliverance from ignorance and illiteracy. She would start reading Kannada books independently from that day.
Para 17 … I saw the determination writ large on her face. I gave her an appreciative smile, carefully concealing my feelings of doubt.
Para 18 … But, I could not hold back my curiousity and skepticism any more. I said, “Avva, at the age of 62, with wrinkled skin, grey hair, and wearing spectacles, you plan to learn alphabets! Who will do the household chores?”
Para 19 … She fended off my childish jibe with a smile.
Para 20 … She shot back, “If you plan to accomplish something lofty, you need to work hard. I will do it. I will defy the infirmities of my old age.”
Para 21 .. From the next day, I became her tutor. Avva showed more determination than what I had expected. She read, wrote and recited with great keenness.
I knew I was coaching my first student. I never imagined that I would, one day, teach Computer Science to hundreds of students.
Para 22 … The Dassara festival came as usual. I bought a copy of the full novel Kashi Yatre which had been published by then. No one knew about my buying the book. On the Dassara day my grandmother presented me with a frock cloth, making me seated on a stool in the pooja room. What she did afterwards shook me. She bent forward to touch my feet! By touching my feet, she had touched my soul. I was shattered by a sense of guilt.
It is a sacrilege to let elders touch the feet of the young ones. Touching the feet of God, parents and teachers as a mark of respect is customary in our society.
What had happened today was a total reversal of that time-honoured tradition.
Para 23 … In an assuring tone she told me, “I am touching the feet of my teacher who imparted me knowledge. You may be my granddaughter, but you are my revered teacher. Now, because of you I am able to read independently. Isn’t it written in our scriptures that one needs to touch the feet of one’s teacher?”
Para 24 … I reciprocated by touching her feet. Then, I gave her my gift – the newly-bought copy of Kashi Yatre’. She began to read the book starting with the publisher’s name.
Para 25 … I realized that my student had passed her test with aplomb.