Have you ever thought how good an experience it can be when you look up a word in the dictionary? Probably not. Today’s generation doesn’t know much about the pleasures involved in going through a dictionary. Although I belong to the same generation that I so disparagingly speak of I know where my differences lie. Also, I know the “why” of the differences, which might make for a tiny bit more engaging read than the rest of the article, for the simple reason that it’s not of my making!
My father, a tax consultant (with a law degree) by profession and a homeopathy cum book lover cum naturopathy cum accupuncture/pressure believer by choice, was an avid reader till a few years back. He has almost given up reading paperbacks and fiction but reading, in essence, remains his strongest belief till date! He now reads to supplement his love for the above mentioned things but earlier he was an absolutely die hard fan of anything written by James Hadley Chase!!! He said that the author wrote books for his taste; quick and sharp. No dramas; no futile dialogues; no wasted description. Just wham bam and thank you ma’am kinds! So the chromosome Y which comes from my father has made me fall in love with words, lines, rhymes, prose etc etc etc…
Now, comes my mother. She loves stories. Just give her the chance to tell you a tale of her times and you’ll get a fully detailed version of the time when so and so’s husband had a fight with her father (my Nana, a very wise man he was) 30 years back! She brings back to life the very fabric within which the story was woven to life. She’d imitate with splendor the emotions of a goal post, I say! That means chromosome X makes me love books and stories even more!
Now, what happened was that my father’s love of reading for acquiring knowledge; my mother’s zest of drama mingled with my own obstinate wont of poetry and Prose made a rather unique (weird?) mixture of attachment to any form of paper bound whether in hard cover, soft cover, binders, spirals, staples, cello tape, ribbons, files, folders or even loose sheets available at the sandwich wala’s shack!!!
Anyway, my very first rendezvous with a dictionary was in class 5. Surprisingly I even remember the word I was looking for. It was the word “amend” from the chapter “The Japanese fan” (I’m almost sure but cannot be a 100% sure) in my Radiant Reader! I had a dictionary but I couldn’t find the word. My Professor kicked my butt for not having the “right” dictionary which was “The Oxford Dictionary” costing a cool Rs. 110. I always thought that one dictionary is just as good as another and to why spend unnecessary cash on another! As I have already mentioned my mom and dad, and hence my sisters too, were heavy readers so there were already a good few dictionaries at home. That was the first time I used a “lugat” (“dictionary” in Turkish) and I haven’t stopped admiring the book since then!
I might’ve agreed at some point of time that the Oxford Dictionary is the only worthy dictionary out there but at this time, today, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment! A dictionary is a Dictionary. It depends on the user how much he is able to exploit those hard bound (traditionally) books and extract as much as possible from it! Now, the one that I used in class 5 did not have the word “amend” but it had pictures for words that were difficult to explain and that was the thing which probably attracted me in the first place!
So, what makes a dictionary such an endearing book that when one opens a page he/she is automatically pulled into the endless jungle of words? I think its the Domino Effect. Its like Adventure Amazonia from the Water Park! Just an inkling of doubt is all that is required (not to forget, a teensie weensie love for the written word) and we’re good to go. It has happened so many times with me that I open it to look for a word beginning from P and… there is “interlard“, “jejune”, “kowtow”, “litotes”, “mescal”, “nescient”, “oubliette” then finally “parotid”.
One word leads to another and, sometimes, one manages to forget the reason why he opened the dictionary in the first place!
Domino I said and Domino it is! I once played a game when I was in class 9 just for the heck of it. I opened the dictionary and started looking for words from “A”. My aim was to make a chain of such words which involved every alphabet at least once and come back to the original word! It took days and days but it did happen! Sometimes, I agree, that I had to sometimes do a back flip and go looking for words to make it to the next one… but in essence, yes, it happened. But that was just a game! But imagine how many I learnt in those weeks! I forgot more than half but at that moment. At that VERY moment in my life my vocabulary was massive and gigantic!
It’s difficult for me to talk about such things and leave out the one person in my schooling life who made a big big difference to my love for words and crossword puzzles. Mr. D’souza, my English teacher in class 6 & 7! He had this habit of making us kids make a diary and he made us call it “My Personal Dictionary” and he used to make us write all words, meanings, its synonyms and antonyms and variations in it. He used to pick words randomly or from books we were doing for Literature! I still remember some words he introduced me to. Tintinnabulation was one of the most intriguing words I had ever heard till then! When he asked us the question, “Class, what is the word used to describe the ringing of bells?”, the answers varied from the simple “Ding-Dong” to the extremely imaginative “Tring-Bling-Ding-Booonnngggg” accompanied with stamping, clapping and whistling!
He instilled within me a certain amount of respect for literature that no one else could do. He was a disciplinarian and an amazing teacher… I think he wouldn’t be a great teacher if he wasn’t a disciplinarian and neither would he be such a disciplinarian if he wasn’t a such an amazing master!
I haven’t yet forgotten those days and neither have I forgotten those words. Was it another reason why I found my love in the written word? May be!