By Neel Anil Panicker

“Sir, how can I improve my English?”, was a constant query that Banik Banerjee, Banik Da to his friends and colleagues, and Banik Sir, to his legions of students both outside and inside the hallowed precincts of Calcutta’s prestigious Presidency College, where the sixty something bespectacled Professor of Linguistic Studies taught, was asked every every single hour, every single day, for the past almost 30 odd years.

His reply to that was a constant. staccato,  something that never wavered: “Read.”

Invariably, and increasingly so, as the decades rolled by, this advice would be be met with blank faces.

He would look into the eyes of his students, not of them still flirting with their early twenties, and see in them, a sense of despair,  of shock, of resignation, even sacrilege—as he had uttered the most reprehensible, hateful, the most dirty four letter word ever known to humankind.

A few intrepid though thick skinned among them, would then very deliberately, with a few  well timed coughings to go along with the flow, go forth and ask,”We hate books. I mean there’s our college stuff. But besides that, who reads books in today’s age when we have the internet and Netflix and Alexa and Siri and even Google Maps to notify, inform, guide, and even educate us at every step if our lives—our virtual slaves we master over”?

“Gibberish…utter nonsense…the pits…”, the otherwise calm and composed man of letters would shout back on hearing this spillage of nonsensical verbiage from men and women a third his age.

“You guys…you of this Gen Z, or Y or X or what other letter you love to attach yourselves to…you guys have brains the size of peas. Your knowledge levels, your analytical skills, your sense, sensibilities and sensitivities when it comes to the things, people. events. past and present around you is pathetic, pitiable and parsimonious. All you, the youth of today, and purportedly, the future of tomorrow have to show to the world  by way of education are an exasperating farrago of lies.”

By this time Banik Da would lose his audience.

Just unable to withstand any longer this near endless bombardment of linguistic weaponry, the students would scurry away like the frightened squirrels they were, taking shelter behind the massive Gothic pillars of the century old edifice and ensuring that henceforth they stay at least a mile away from the aquinone faced quick silver tongued , sharp brained lover of the printed word.

And when that would happen, then Banik Da would shake his head in sheer frustration and walk past, muttering to no one in particular ” a bunch of grown up imbeciles all. If they haven’t yet discovered the sheer unadulterated joys of reading, especially these lockdown times,  they never will. ”

#neelanilpanicker #flash #fiction #shortstory #books #reading


1 thought on “neelwrites/lockdownindiastories/day64/28/05/20

  1. Very persuasive piece Neel, it’s the same message we tell our students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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