Baba, what do you think of this?” my seven-year-old asked. She had written a letter to her class teacher, rolled up the sheet of paper and tied it with a red ribbon, its bow at the centre.
“That’s lovely, Oishi,” I said.
“Do you know what that is called?”
“A letter,” she said, with that almost imperceptible upward lilt to the last syllable. It meant:
“How can even you be so stupid as to ask?”
“No, no, that thing you have made with the letter,” I said, hastily, keen to be not thought of as irredeemably dim.
Oishi raised both eyebrows.
“It’s called a scroll.”
“A scroll,” she said, swilling the word around her mouth as though it were a Beaujolais; I could see that she was adding it to her vocabulary.
“See, you know what a roll is, don’t you? Add ‘sc’ before that and you’ve got a scroll.”
“Scroll is what you do with a mouse,” she said.
“And it’s what you can turn a letter into too.”
“Same spelling, two meanings,” she smiled. The idea pleased her, and she gave me a hug. We play this game often: adding a letter or two before or after a word she knows and making words that are new to her. We also play Scrabble. It’s fun, watching her trying to shuffle her letters into words.
I have been told that this is old-fashioned, this fun of imparting and imbibing the joy of discovering how new words are made.
I don’t think so. Oishi is rather good with the computer. She is also rather good with the BlackBerry, and texting and that sort of thing.
I do know that in no time people will care less and less for spelling and more for the Spell Check programme built into computers; that texting will make a mockery for being a stickler for apostrophes; that the world is moving on and that it has no time. But I’d rather… I am away from her as I write this. She texts me every day, and often. And I know that when I return, she will also have written letters I shall then read.
When I came away, she gave me a sheet of paper. On it was written, in English script, the Bengali demotic version of “Hell is other people”.
I looked at the paper, and then at her.
“Just so that you can look at it when you feel annoyed with things. It will make you feel calm. It will remind you of me. It will make you feel better,” she said.
I have looked at it in the past few days. It did make me feel better. I’m not sure a text message can do that in quite the same manner — though it achieves, in its emoticon-filled way, something that this piece of paper can’t.
We can’t ever have the best of both worlds. But sometimes, just sometimes, it isn’t a crime to ask.