Me – In Love with Words -Kazi F. Eshita
People, who know me, know that I absolutely adore words. In fact, both handwritten and printed words fascinate me. I was not like this from the very first day I started learning how to read and write. What made me fell in love with words, then? Looking back, writing was the first thing I despised as a child. I would rather sit with my huge collection of dolls and play for hours. As a result, I had to struggle a lot while reading, writing or reciting poems, unlike my peers. Moreover, my handwriting was like a huge line of black ants on a page. That’s when my mother stepped in to help me learn. Being the youngest of six siblings, I got most of her adoration and attention. She could do anything to make me highly educated. “Let’s see if you can teach your dolls. I’m sure they’d love to learn a bit of the subjects you learn at school.” Mom suggested one day.
The idea struck me like a thunderbolt. It seemed like a nice combination of two games. I sat with my dolls, and wrote all the letters of the English alphabet in tiny pieces of paper. Gradually, I read them out loud to the inanimate human figures sitting in front of me. Later on, I did the same with numbers and letters of my native alphabet, Bangla. That was the first key to the marvelous world of words.
Though the initial hatred had subsided a little, even then, my battles with words did not come to an instant end. I was ever so slow in writing, that I could seldom complete an exam or a classwork on time. As a result, my grades were deteriorating to such an extent; I used to think I’m a “good for nothing.” Despite having the willingness to pull up, I just couldn’t figure out how to improve. I always carried a set of pencil crayons. During recess, or in between classes, I’d find immense pleasure through coloring in picture books.
My kindergarten teacher noticed my attraction towards colors. “Eshita, would you prefer to write with the crayons instead of the boring, black pencils? Give it a try.”
First of all, I was a mediocre student. Secondly, despite having a pleasant personality, she would sometimes make the disobedient students stand on the bench. Though I never got that punishment, yet it made me scared of her. I decided to try that suggestion. To my surprise, as I began writing with the crayons, the letters did not look like insects anymore. I even found graphite pencils cute, and developed a hobby of collecting pencils.
Though my progress was very slow, I was trudging up instead of falling down. I hardly had any idea of the unexpected challenges coming my way. Back in the early 90’s, English Medium education was far more expensive than the normal Bangla Medium one (it still is). Bangla Medium students get the native language as their medium of instruction. They also get free books from the government till the 10th grade. Also, they have fewer subjects during the early years of schooling. In contrast, every single English Medium (at least the ones I know of) is private. Lots of subjects must be studied from the first grade onwards. On top of that, the cost of imported books and the extra out-of-class tuition can be a huge monetary burden on guardians. Back then; this was considered only a luxury for the elite class, not for middle class families like ours. Besides, many Bangla Medium students depend only on memorization and pre-prepared guidebooks to pass an exam. In contrast, English Medium students get lots of interactive activities blended with the knowledge from books. (Things were different in the time I’m talking about, but now the scenario has changed to some extent).
My siblings and parents wanted me to get the English Medium education, so that I could live with my head held up high. My education has enabled me to live free of certain phobias. (I had worked as an ESL teacher for about three years. I came across students who not only got scared of speaking in English due to a low fluency, but they were scared of the teacher too! I respect all my teachers, but fear? No thanks! Teachers can become my best friends). Many of my relatives did not approve of the so-called luxury for me. “Why her?” They’d ask my parents. “Develop the future of your other children with that money. Why squander on thecripple?”
All throughout my life, that one word seldom left my side. Yes, it is true that I was a child at that time, and those remarks did hurt me. However, that word also created a blazing fire in my heart. “I have to prove I’m worth it.” I vowed to myself.
From then on, I began reading anything I could lay my hands on. Grocery store packets, talcum powder containers, my own books, or my older sibling’s books, the list goes on. I got books as birthday presents. My siblings got books for me from their friends. I used to write whatever I read, in my own words. Both my reading habits and writing developed simultaneously. Here I can relate to Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me.” Just like Alexie’s father, my father is an avid reader. His love for books got into me.
At first, I’d often fell asleep while writing. I often got distracted while reading. To get rid of distractions, I decided to combine some of my hobbies together. While working on a school assignment, I’d leave a border on the paper. I’d draw (or write lyrics of my favorite songs if applicable) in the border. Even today, my instructors might find me doodling or humming a tune occasionally, while working in class. I give my full attention to class lectures, though. Such habits work like condiments with coffee. This not only helps me to increase my attention in class, but keeps me away from stress as well.
No matter how hard I try, my body prevents me from taking part in outdoor sports or wear fancy footwear. A six-year-old me, never wanted to face that fact. “Why me?” I used to ask everyone I met. One day, my parents took me to a painting competition. “We think you’ll like this.” They said.
Since then, creativity became my refuge, my greatest source of solace. To satisfy my voracious appetite for words, I used to buy loads of magazines. One such Bangla magazine, Kishore Potrika, hosted an interesting poem writing competition. I loved to read the entries. When I was 12, Dad forced me to take part in the competition against my will. He writes well in Bangla and wanted me to take up the hobby too. Just to oblige, I took part. Today I’m more than glad I did that. The first four lines of the poem were given. Contestants had to add four to eight lines more to complete it. An unexpected win in that contest left me awestruck. “This means I can try to write, huh? Shall I continue?” I asked myself. Just curious, I sent one of my English Language Workshop (a class which taught us creative writing, acting and poetry recitation in middle school) homework to The Bangladesh Observer, one of the leading English local newspapers of that time. Sometime around June 1997, I first saw my name in print, in English.
That publication did not escape the eyes of my English Language Workshop teacher, Mr. K.H. As a result, some extra tutoring on writing techniques came my way. Mr. K.H. encouraged me to carry on. Here I can connect with Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue.” Amy’s first reader was her mother. Soon enough, my father became my first reader, while Mr. K.H. became my first editor. My father is neither too weak nor too strong in English. I felt if he could understand me, everyone could. On the other hand, being my first writing mentor, Mr. K.H. knew all my writing flaws. He, therefore, led me in such a way where I could combine my own methods along with his teachings to sharpen my works. Mr. K.H. still works as a lantern to guide me, my enthusiastic editor. The pre-teen introvert he got as his student; has turned into a twenty-something young woman. She’s still treated as the child he first met. I truly enjoy that fact. I’m blessed to have such a mentor around.
Many years later, in 2010, I joined a not- so-popular, local English teen magazine called Youth Wave. I knew my main audience was twelve to eighteen year olds. Teenagers are certainly more sensitive than adults. This realization inspired me to take my editing seriously. I refined my words, refurbished my first published pieces to be re-published in Youth Wave. Here, my second editor came in. Surprisingly, in spite of being colleagues for more than five years, I’ve never seen brother N.H. in person. We got introduced through Yahoo Mail. We communicate via Google Talk, social media and telephone. He’s a few years older than I am, a combination of a colleague, friend and an elder brother. He throws topics at me every month, edits, corrects and publishes them. I used to get parcels containing Youth Wave back in Bangladesh. Here in America, only the Internet comes to my aid. N.H. would occasionally send me various reading materials to enhance my writing. I owe you one big thanks, brother!
One copy of whatever I write always goes to Youth Wave. This magazine is helping me grow as a writer. I fell in love with words everyday. Now I have one more item added to my reading list, cornflakes boxes. I enjoy reading comic strips, and some of these boxes come with comic printed at the back.
According to Deborah Brandt, “sponsors are any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model as well as recruit or withhold literacy, and gain advantage by it in some way.” (Sponsors of Literacy – page: 36).
This essay is a tribute to all my sponsors of literacy. I’m happy to see those initial ugly black ants called words, finally make sense. Those ants have turned into my best friends now. I might not feel like talking all the time, but I’m always in the mood to pour my heart down on paper. After all: “Paper has more patience than people” – Anne Frank.