The Wren and Martin days…

IMG_0080Bright tints of yellow and the succulent sweet tanginess melting into my mouth… Oh the mangoes! They meant the summer, they meant the summer holidays.

Enjoying mangoes at the banks of the river, jumping, splashing, swinging, singing and playing in the flowing waters until our bodies ached and fingers turned into dry almonds… that’s how summer holiday mornings began at my grandparents’ place. No one seemed to worry about the toxic pollutants, the brisk flow of the stream, the chilling cold water, the endless potential risk factors. The muddy waters were sacred. The river loved us. Wrapping us each day into its motherly protective fold it let us regale in sheer thrill. We loved her back. Flowing from the mountains, it was majestic and pure. It was our very own, non-virtual Avenger!

Summer holidays did not mean all denouncement of the academic routine though. Afternoons saw my brother and I sitting around dining tables with Wren and Martin, twitching our fingers and pencils. ‘You have to finish at least 10 pages,’ my mother would repeat as we tried wriggling out of it with some passionately profound excuses. She did not understand English, but she had her own set of unquestionable formulae. Wren and Martin was one of them. It was our completely trusted teacher of English. Books changed with the syllabus for all other subjects as we moved across year groups, but Wren and Martin continued as our haunting mistress right through school.

IMG_0082There was one more formula. All stories in the English readers had to be read and re-read and re-read until they got ‘chewed and digested’. That was my mother’s way of teaching us. She couldn’t explain if we had doubts. She just insisted, ‘Read it again until it’s clear.’ Her formula was consistent. ‘Read it at least seven times. You will understand. Check the dictionary and check Wren and Martin if you still find it tough. Just read and you will understand,’ She would say. Her hands busy sifting the pressure cooker popping away with fresh popcorn. Their delicious butter-salt aroma harking us to complete our reading and writing tasks. My mother’s ideas sounded like madness back then and she wouldn’t budge. Nevertheless, something magical worked and by the fourth reading or so we actually did understand! The rest we faked to her satisfaction.

Now, as a teacher of English when I look back, I can see ‘the method in the madness.’ We self-learnt, explored the tools at hand, applied our minds, collaborated with each other, often agreeing and disagreeing to reach a common understanding. We were peer-learning too and checking our own work, repeating draft after draft until we got there.

Today, while sifting through some old books, I chanced upon a tattered copy of Wren and Martin almost falling apart. Oh the smell of vintage yellow pages… It had a name sticker with my brother’s name and Elle the elephant, holding a pink flower in her blue trunk, peered through it. This was his favorite sticker. No wonder he chose to put it on Wren and Martin. Thanks Elle for preserving this glorious teacher of English for us.

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13 thoughts on “The Wren and Martin days…

  1. Roopali says:

    Oh the Wren and Martin
    As Mrs. Hariorao said each student should have three things for sure… Dictionary, Atlas and a Wren and Martin

    Well recalled 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Retika says:

    Wren & Martin was like our bible when we were growing up. This piece fills one up with naustaligia and makes you hum the song ‘those were the days my friend and we thought they’d never end…’ without even realising it. Yet another brilliant piece Amrita. Please keep writing and never stop!

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  3. Sahar says:

    Didn’t we all just ‘chewed and digested’ the whole book? Everyone had a copy, the teachers left us to struggle through the quagmire of English grammar… with Messrs. Wren & Martin as guides! Lovely article Amrita… am going to find my old friend too. I remember I had scribbled some particularly vicious sentiments against holiday homework on one of the pages!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous says:

    The name may have changed, but the formula remains the same. A well written article Amrita. Brings back a flood of memories.

    Like

  5. Animesh says:

    Amrita I think the Wren and Martin write up was so good that it evoked lot of memories. So I decided to write the same stuff in my own way to express my feelings. Here goes..

    May 20 finally the school I work for closed for summer holidays. A month of pure bliss of staying at home in the oven like heat of Lucknow . As I entered my house a sense of deja vu came over me coupled with a strange sense of inner joy just waiting to spill out and at that instant I suddenly discovered the source of that inexplicable feeling. Down I went the memory lane to the summer holidays of my school. Oh to be 15 again, to enjoy and revel in a two month summer holiday of my adolescence than the measly 1 month holiday we get now almost grudgingly granted by the school.
    I sighed and stepped inside. Somehow I didn’t want to let the feeling go. Everything viewed from today’s perspective seemed rose tinted ,even the Wren and Martin a copy of which I was almost sure I had preserved up in the storage attic. There somewhere beneath the suitcases and old books and layers of dust and the cold still air must be a copy.
    Wren and Martin ,our reference for everything English,I mean the language off course. The book itself to us was a personification of something which was academic, a friend in need , something evoking reverence and hate in equal measure,made intimidating by constant reference to it by my mother and my English teachers.
    But for my brother it was an object to cherish , to embellish lovingly with his name in flowery letters with Class IX B proudly written below it. What is it about children writing their section is something I haven’t understood till date unless it is to do with getting the book back in case of accidental loss. But who would ever lose Wren and Martin especially my brother who went to the extent of embellishing the holy copy with his favourite Elle sticker.
    The thing about learning those days was repetition. Now that would evoke horror among people today who wouldn’t spend a moment before classifying it as rote learning. But to my mother it had a very different meaning. It was about exploring and revisiting things again and again till one got the sense of the lesson. It was about not being spoon fed. It was about being independent and more than that it was about her trust on Wren and Martin. The book was the ultimate reference point to clear all doubts ,remove the cobwebs of misunderstanding and at the end of it getting to love the book . And actually my mother’s remedy worked ,even on my brother ,as our confidence in our own abilities increased as problem after problem disappeared with the help of the book till a point in time that the awe we held the book decreased and respect increase, a sure sign that we were growing up. My mother was right so was Wren and Martin .
    I tried to search for the book between all the holiday activities and it was not until a hot summer and very still afternoon that I found a rather dilapidated and yellowed with age copy of the book. I carefully picked it up ,dusting it lightly ,carefully fearful of the pages falling apart. As I turned the pages of the book something fell out and fluttered to the floor. I picked it up and looked at it. It was the front cover of the book perhaps torn earlier but carefully preserved by my brother as I recognized his name in the flowery letters and as if by magic I was transported years back. My brother had dropped the book and somehow his foot had touched the book. My mother who had just come in said ” Kamal never touch a book with your foot. Pick it up and touch it with your head”. Instinctively I raised the Wren and Martin to my head and the Elle sticker flashed in the weak light of the bulb. Wren and Martin you will live in my heart for ever and ever more.

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  6. Dr. Vandana Gupta says:

    Yes, I remember the silent evening preps we had at the boarding for self study and Wren n Martin the only friend we could rely upon as we were struggling to learn English.
    Very crisp piece of writing Amrita. Brought back so many memories!

    Liked by 1 person

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