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Teaching English through Indian Literature in English

Teaching English through Indian Literature in English


Languages are the special gifts of man which make him distinct from other animals. They are manna from heaven and, people, irrespective of space and narrowness of nation, are permitted to use them as they like. Of the hundreds of languages in this world, English alone enjoys the privilege of an international language.

No language, including English, can be called pure or chaste. Modern English is a hybrid language borrowing innumerable words from almost all languages of the world. Languages are growing everyday and English particularly is growing at a rapid rate. Not only the English speaking countries but also the English using countries like India are contributing considerably to the treasury of English vocabulary. Thus English is everybody’s language—the only language which links and integrates the human race together; the only lingua franca which one loves and feels proud of using it as ones mother tongue.

Now coming to another important issue regarding English language—the purity and correct use of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Don’t we make errors in our use of grammar and syntax when we use our mother tongue? Don’t English men commit these mistakes when they speak and write? The English used by the English men and Americans are no way superior to the English used by the learned men in the non-English speaking countries. For the same reason a British writer or an American writer cannot claim that his works are superior to the English works from India or other English using countries. It is high time that the westerners should pluck the colonizer’s superiority complex from their minds and the Indians and the other colonized people should resurrect from their inferiority complex.

Indian Literature in English was once considered an inferior literature to Indian literatures in regional languages as well as English literatures of England and America (English literature and American literature). Booker prizes to Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Arvind Adiga proclaim that Indian English literature is as competent and vibrant as British, American, Australian, Canadian and African Literature. Why Nobel Prize for literature slithered from India after Tagore, is because of reasons other than the quality of literature in India.

Literatures in the regional languages of India have always an upper hand over Indian literature in English. But Indian literature in English—literature created in one’s second language—should be encouraged and honoured rather than censured. The governments and publishers should promote this literature because only through this medium India can speak to the world; share her ideas, philosophies, traditions, ethos, cultures, emotions, dreams and beauties. Indian literature in English deserves more encomium and consideration than English translations of Indian literature in regional languages because translations are thrice removed from the reality and beauty.

I have been stating in the above paragraphs the necessity of learning English and the need to feel pride in the English of our country. As English is our second language in schools where the medium of instruction is the regional language, the pupils will surely find many difficulties in learning it. Teaching English through the mother tongue is practised in most of the schools in India. That is the major barrier to learning English. Instead of explaining the meaning of English terms in very simple English, the teachers explain them in the mother tongue. The result is that the pupil can understand and catch English only through his/her mother tongue. Since the pupils do not listen to full English sentences from the teacher as part of explanations they can never use them in their own conversations and interactions. Thus they never accrue sufficient English vocabulary.

Since the present world is that of communicative English, teaching pupils dry grammar and linguistics is highly monotonous and dispiriting. Grammar through discourses and literature is welcomed by the present generation. If our pupils are taught English through Indian literature in English, which can digest to their young minds, I think, they will be greatly attracted to this foreign language. Since education aims at civilizing our pupils and students, the teachers are expected to inject great values and culture to their pupils’/students’ brain. The teachers should teach their pupils and students the various myths of their country; and they can do so only through literature.

Teaching our pupils and students English through Indian literature in English is like shooting several birds with the same bullet. First of all they can learn English amusingly through the depiction of little situations, incidents and stories. Since our literature deals with our topography and people they come to know more about our history, values, cultures, ways of life, traditions, legends, ethos, sceneries, climates, different kinds of animals and plants etc. Let me illustrate this teaching through a few specimens which I have experimented on my students.

Since the students are immature and extra cautious of their physical appearance and beauty I wanted to refine them and teach them the meaninglessness of external, physical beauty. Hence I recited my own poem entitled “Beauty” in the classroom. Let me quote it:

Why do you murmur lass looking at the mirror?

Ma, why didn’t God create me a little more beautiful?

Who told you dear that you are not beautiful?

Bodily beauty is only one among the beauties;

It fades and decays as a flower does.

Who thinks of a flower when it is decayed?

The sun is beautiful but can you enjoy it at noon?

But it radiates its beauty through the objects of nature.

Eternal beauty is in achievements eternal.

Have a look at the great men of the world:

Gandhi, Lincoln, Shakespeare, Shaw,

Mother Teresa, Navratilova, Venus, Sereena…

Who is more popular, Venus or Aiswarya?

What makes Kalam our dearest President?

Bodily beauty is all subjective and relative;

Some like white, some like black.

No child is ugly to its mother;

Nothing can be ugly, for God created it.

Didn’t you feel the snake’s beauty

when Lawrence sang in praise of it?

Keats has taught you “beauty is truth”

and “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Only spiritual beauty gives eternal joy.

My dear lass, be like the sun,

brightening this dark world with your inner beauty.

(Dominic, Winged Reason 28)

I have used in this poem very simple vocabulary and students could easily understand them without explaining anything in the mother tongue. Since the poem is in a conversational style, the students could learn that style to that extent. Through the imagery of the flower and the sun used in the poem, I could teach them the use of figurative languages in literature. Apart from these linguistic aspects I could teach them some eternal values of beauty, and familarise to them some great personalities who conquered the world through their inner beauties. I could also introduce to them two great poets, D. H. Lawrence and John Keats.

Now let me quote another poem which I have tried in my class successfully. I wanted to teach my students that God expects work rather than worship from us. The poem is named “Work is Worship.” These are the lines:

My parish priest advised me once:

“Sir, I rarely meet you at Sunday Services.”

“Right, Father, I have little time to waste;

IGNOU students wait for my classes;

for they are free only on Sundays;

and for me work is worship.”

(“You are right, my son,”

whispered God to my ears,

“I’ve never asked my children

to waste a day flattering me.”)

“Waste? Prayer is waste?

And work on Sabbath days?”

“Father, when God is with me

why should I seek him elsewhere?”

“But collective prayer is

stronger than a single voice.”

“Prayer? If prayer is communication with God,

don’t we need some silence?

How can I talk to Him,

when hundreds roar stale words?”

(“You are right again, son,”

whispered God to my ears,

“I am shuddered by their cries

which never come from their minds.

My dear son, live in Karma,

love all creations,

for I am in everything.”)

(Dominic, Reason and Fantasy 68-69)

Again, this poem is in the conversational style and only simple words are used. No explanation is required. This poem has much ethical value. There are many students who are under the illusion that what God will be more pleased if we pray to him continuously stealing our time for work and duty. I wanted to remove their misunderstanding about the Creator.

Another poem which conquered the minds of my students is “A Cow on the Lane.” It has been read in several classes. Let me quote the poem and then analyse its impact on the students.

The train will leave at 5 am;

fifteen minutes remain,

and five more miles to drive.

Lo, a cow lies on the lane;

the horn sounded stormily.

The cow retorted smiling:

“Don’t disturb my slumber.”

Her posture reminds me

of Hanuman blocking

the journey of Bhimasena,

seeking kalyanasaugandhika

flower for his Draupadi;

how elder brother Hanuman

pricked his arrogant brother’s

bubble of ego and insolence.

“Dear cow, kindly clear the road,”

I pleaded her with folded hands.

“This world is not your grandpa’s.

It’s so vast and wide.

Can’t you take another route?”

What she said is right.

Like Bhimasena, my ego crumbled;

I drove my car backwards;

took another lane and reached

the station just on time.

(Dominic, “A Cow on the Lane” 31)

As in other poems the style used in this poem is simple and conversational. The colloquial use of the language in the poem fascinates the students. Through this poem I taught my students a great truth that man should be a participatory being. He has to move with the flow of the system. Like him, all other beings have right to this planet. I could also draw their attention to the myth in the Mahabharata.

Before ending my paper let me illustrate one more poem. This poem entitled “Musings from an Infant’s Face” was composed on International Women’s Day (8 March 2010). The poem was recited in many classes with a purpose to arouse students’ sympathy to women. Here is the poem:

An infant over

her mother’s shoulder

looked at me

from the front seat

of the bus I travelled.

Infants always

tempted me

like bloomed roses.

Babies—human

and non-human—

are embodiments

of grace and innocence.

The Creator is

manifest in their faces.

Blake’s poems

of Innocence

and Experience

flashed through my mind.

I tried to smile

at the infant;

she didn’t smile back.

Might be my

smile is guile and vile.

Her eyes seemed

to tell me something.

Her mother’s appearance

foretold the infant’s lot.

Born to poor parents,

how thorny would be

the path of her life!

She is yet to toddle;

I could vision

the blood oozing from

her soft feet.

Being a female,

black and dark,

poor and low caste,

discriminations,

humiliations,

abuses and tortures,

will come in battalions

to give her

Guard of Honour

and lead her along

the brambly path.

Lame and tottering

she will struggle along

till she reaches

her terminus, death.

(Dominic, “Musings” 230)

Unlike the other poems discussed earlier this poem is reflective in style. I taught the students its stylistic features. I explained to them the use of imagery in the poem. Apart from the linguistic aspects I could make the students aware of the lot of poor women in India. I could also introduce William Blake’s poems to them. Beyond any doubt the students were greatly thrilled by the class. Thus from my experience I can assert that teaching English through literature facilitates a student to learn the language quickly and enjoyably.

Works Cited

Dominic, K. V. “A Cow on the Lane.” Kerala Private College Teacher 221 (January 2010): 31. Print.

—. “Musings from an Infant’s Face.” Labyrinth: The Biannual Literary Journal of Postmodernism 1.2 (September 2010): 230. Print.

—. Reason and Fantasy (Poems and Short Stories). Thodupuzha: K. V. Dominic, 2009. Print.

—. Winged Reason. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2010. Print.