Bright 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.
There 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.