A chance at living many lives

A chance at living many lives

Where else but in novels can you truly escape to another land...and return unscathed?

Since I started teaching literature to high school students more than a decade ago, parents often interrogate me about the bearing of classics like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and  Shakespeare plays in today’s world.

Sometimes they worry about the explicit sensual content in novels like ‘The Kiss of the Spider Woman’ and ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ impacting their child’s impressionable minds. These interrogati-ons become particularly pertinent when they see their child struggling to acquire a higher grade in English, a subject they don’t often consider vital when equated with the sciences and mathematics.

Over the years, my answer to each such parent has more or less remained the same. Where else, I say, but in novels can you truly escape to another land, another dwelling, and another time and come back relatively unscathed? Where else but in books can you find both provocation and privacy? Where else can you examine something fragile and tentative without the fear of breaking it? Reading and analysing books is the only way students can move away from the prescribed journey and yet remain on track.

It is mostly through the different novels they study, that students get to live the life and experience the priorities and dilemmas of a diverse individual. This forces them out of their comfort zones, albeit in imagination, and embarks them on an empirical journey. What makes this journey particularly meaningful is the discussion of the text in class.

To provide an analogy, when we travel rich, we meet other rich people who live in similar opulent hotels and share parallel experiences. This familiarity might be contented and enjoyable but in no way does it broaden our worldview or make us rich in experience. When we travel poor, we meet people from all walks of life, each in his own private heaven or hell, each with a story very dissimilar to ours. Our mode of transportation (although bumpy) could offer us vistas that we might have never imagined.

The soaking in of the local flavour and culture only happens when we do not just put the tip of our foot in the water but jump right in. When we soak in humanity. Students today are travelling rich and exposure to different novels allows them an opportunity to travel poor.

Wuthering Heights, in its morbid and gothic elements, hides the transcendental nature of love while Jane Eyre carries in its pages lessons on beauty in simplicity. Shakespeare shows us how absolute power corrupts absolutely and the sensuality in ‘The Kiss of the Spider Woman’ accentuates the need of all humans to find an escape. This is just naming the usual suspects. There are so many lovely novels that could and should be deliberated upon. Each book makes you live a new life, a new experience and what’s more? The book never really ends. It gr-ows inside you and around you, and without you even realising, it helps you grow.

Most parents are convinced with this answer and to those who still have reservations, I say, welcome to my class… come join the joyride. This pretty much clinches the deal.

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