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Trying to avoid a grammatical terror

india Updated: Jul 03, 2010 23:54 IST
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Every so often, fatherhood returns me to childhood, a phase of my life I am very thrilled to have left behind. When I was a child, childhood didn’t seem to be entirely unredeemed. In retrospect, I view it with a sort of malevolent curiosity.

So there came its shadow, darkly swimming into the penumbra of my grown-up life one weekend evening.

“Baba, they taught us reflexive and emphatic pronouns today. I am confused. You will have to explain this to me,” our eight-year-old daughter said.

I was confused.

I am supposed to know about these things, you see. Being pretty much rubbish at everything else, English grammar and sport are the only things I am told I ought to know stuff about. (I have never quite understood this. Sport, well, okay, but why ought I know things to do with grammar? “Because you have written books, Baba.” But what does that have to do with grammar? Nabokov couldn’t spell. So.)

Anyway, seeing there was no escape from having my ignorance exposed again, I went to my trusted friends (and trustworthy tormentors) from my school days, Messrs Wren and Martin. The sight of the book recalled the silent terror of childhood, of exams for which one is unprepared, the fear of disappointment, the acrid tang of retribution.

But I did get down to it. Bits began to come back to me, and it was easy to explain the definitions, but then came the exercises. Tricky stuff, and I was back to being as confused as ever.

So I phoned Oishi’s self-appointed godfather, a man who has his name on the covers of books, and, therefore, ought to know about these things. Hah. Well, he hadn’t a clue. It was no small consolation. But then, that’s like messing up an exam as a child, and deriving solace from the fact one’s friend has messed up just as awfully.

It doesn’t take away from the ignominy of not measuring up to one’s child’s expectations.

Can you, dear reader, help?

In the following sentences, which pronouns are reflexive, and which emphatic?

1. Peter and Kevin are preparing themselves for the swimming meet.

2. He set himself a hard task.

3. Mr Kent does the cooking himself, and he enjoys it.

As I was saying, I am utterly glad to have escaped childhood. It’s inevitable, but it seems like an immense achievement to me. It will happen to Oishi too. Till then, there are Messrs Wren and Martin, and the blundering idiocy of her father.

(Even as an adult, she won’t be able to eliminate the latter from her life.)

The author can be reached at soumya@hindustantimes.com