I am a skimpy reader. Perhaps because I have an inborn short attention span. I have read few books, completely. During our art school days, it was considered a must to read popular classics of Irving Stone - Lust for life (a novel based on the life of Vincent van Gogh) and Agony and Ecstasy (another voluminous one based on the life of Michelangelo). However, it used to be an onerous task for most of us as we were from a rural background. The limited knowledge of English was a hurdle.
Still, I managed to go through both of them, thanks to that little Oxford pocket dictionary. However, it took me five long years, a full-course period, to finish this project. No wonder, many of my other schoolmates kept them only as trophies, displaying their contrived deep-rootedness towards arts and artists.
Perhaps having a comparatively short memory syndrome too, I could never finish reading the Mahabharata. I would fail to remember the who's who of a huge family tree of its innumerable characters.
With a village school background, I would long to learn English. This was then considered the only path to success in any field. I used to nurture a misapprehension that by doing masters in English literature, one can master the language. So after I started earning my living as an art teacher in college, I ventured into doing masters in this "highly rated" subject. Many of my college friends, considering it to be a tough trek, tried to dissuade me. "It's better if you go for masters in fine arts," would be a stock suggestion. But I went for it and succeeded too, thanks to my stubborn streak.
While pursuing this academic venture, I could not read all the prescribed textbooks wholly. The easy availability of popular study material with a "cheap" branding encouraged my lethargic reading attitude and helped me pass the exam, too.
But what troubled me the most was the arduous task of remembering knotty literary quotes and reproducing them verbatim in the answer sheet? This was considered a necessary evil for getting good pass marks, if not a distinction. A friend freed this knot very effectively.
Aware of my modest creative prowess, he suggested that I concoct my own quotes and attribute them to some imagined "modern-day critic". While marking answer books, rather hurriedly, no examiner would ever go to the library to check their authenticity, was his well-observed experience. And it worked well. Thank God, internet and Google Guru were not there then!
There are two lessons from this: one, the fallacy of our so-called higher education, where one can get degrees without reading prescribed texts; two, one cannot know English merely by obtaining a degree.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com