Thursday, August 22, 2013

Spelling Mistakes

Fantasy

“Then again, you may pick up just enough education to hate people who say, ‘It’s a secret between he and I.’ Or you may end up in some business office, throwing paper clips at the nearest stenographer.  I just don’t know.  But do you know what I’m driving at, at all?”

That’s what a teacher tells a student, the protagonist of J D Salinger’s celebrated novel, The Catcher in the Rye.  Holden, the student, was critical of everything around him.  He was confused by the hypocrisy of the adults around him.  The ability of his companions to adjust to that hypocrisy confounded him further.  In short, life confounded him.

Holden ended up in a lunatic asylum.  He couldn’t cope with the confounding life.  

But the novel ended when Holden was only 16 years old.  What if Holden continued to live beyond the novel, outside the asylum, liberated from his neurotic obsessions with hypocrisy, and ready to accept the world as it really is?

He becomes a teacher in a public school, let us imagine.  He becomes an English teacher.  After all, literature was not alien to him.  He loved telling stories. 

What does he see in his school? 

His principal shrieks in the assembly every morning about the spelling mistakes made by the students in their applications.  “You don’t even know the difference between principle and principal.”  Don’t know spellings.  Don’t know grammar.  Basic grammar!  What are you learning here?  What are your teachers teaching here?  What are the teachers doing here?

The Principal becomes so engrossed with spelling mistakes that he forgets that there are students waiting to deliver their routine news readings and poem recitations.

Holden, one of the teachers, sits demurely in the assembly hall listening to the tirade on spelling mistakes.  And grammar mistakes.  And umpteen other mistakes.  Made by everyone, obviously.

And he wonders how this man became the Principal (or is it principle?) when he is so obsessed with spelling mistakes far, far beyond the age of 15.

But who is he, Holden the reclaimed neurotic, to ask such questions?



Spelling mistakes are in the mind.  Of people who ascend to positions they don’t deserve, he thought.  Then he corrected himself.  No, my counsellor had told me to laugh when I saw spelling mistakes.  Can I laugh, Principal?  He did not ask the question loud.  The asylum had made him too sane. 

15 comments:

  1. nicely sad oops spelling mistake :P .. nicely said :) i guess he will get the answer now :D

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    1. Well, Ankur, who will get the answer is determined by Shakespeare's fool :)

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    2. hahaha.. loved this reply .. :)

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  2. Life is confounding. I think Holden was sane and everybody else insane. But alas, a wise can't speak among fools. He spoke and landed in an asylum. Result: Holden turned partially insane.

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    1. I wouldn't disagree much with you, Pankti. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who said that the mad man's raving is meaningless to people who claim sanity but is very meaningful to the man himself. Holden was saner than most people who claim to be normal...

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  3. 'Spelling mistakes are in the mind. Of people who ascend to positions they don’t deserve'. True of all situations and all offices, Matheikal. Most of the time in the weekly meeting in our office is routinely taken up by sanctimonious monologue by the chair on slip ups on part of the relatively junior officers about things like ignoring to number pages in files etc.

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    1. Thanks for the consoling generalisation, Aditi. Anyway, laughter is the best medicine, I've discovered, in such situations.

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  4. Agree with the conclusion. Spelling mistakes are also in the society that elevate people to positions that they don't deserve.

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    1. Yes, Santhosh, the society has a peculiar predilection for the mediocre.

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  5. Interesting imagination.. I wonder if one can extend this line of thought and imagine Holden taking up different careers. Will be fun.

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    1. That's a great idea that you've given me, Adarsh. Interestingly, Aditi above mentions that similar things happen in her profession too (and she belongs to a very elite profession).

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  6. Life is the asylum we all go through :)
    And at the end of the day an empty vase makes a lot of noise. The ranting of principal looks the same of course ;)

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  7. yes sir, that's true your imagination resembles me of some thing. I guess you can understand "spelling mistake"

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    1. But, Abhishek, I must hasten to add that students have a duty to improve their spellings and grammar :)

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