When we were young, we were asked repeatedly to read newspapers, be it the English dailies or the famous vernacular ones, reading the newspaper was a must. The reason was to increase and have a good vocabulary, to be learned about each and every affair and most of all reading a newspaper meant you are not lingering behind. Living in Calcutta, yes not Kolkata, reading The Statesman was a symbol of coming from a family of good taste, aristocracy, sophistication, cultured and well-mannered. If you were reading The Telegraph, you were probably one of those who were considered to be ‘hatke’, the upcoming young new age kids, almost being tagged as going against the society. Then there was the old Anandabazaar Patrika, whose name said it all. If you were not reading it, you were probably missing everything that is happening around you.
But most importantly, we were asked to read not to know what’s happening but to understand the words, the language, grammar, dialogues, sentences, etc. Newspaper acted like grammar books for many of us. I particularly remember being asked repeatedly to read ABP coz I will not only learn bengali but also know about the history of how newspaper descended in Bengal and how journalism is a part of Bengali culture. Yes. Right. It became a type of who-has-read-how-much. It was like a competition. If you didn’t read the ABP or The Statesman you were not learning the language properly. I remember someone saying once, when a new Bengali daily was launched – “Is that a paper even? It is a cheat where you are just scribing off notes and passing on, like in an exam hall.” And from the next day if someone was known to be reading that paper, everyone in the class or anywhere gave a stern look.
However, none of us learnt anything, we only mugged up the language, the words, only to realize later the wrong spellings and grammar used over and over again! For example, one of my acquaintances used to mug up the paper each and every morning. One day while few parents were discussing something, he confidently shouted - “Oh! Don’t worry aunty you’ll be raped just like that woman was by her neighbour in London!” Nobody knew what to reply. Even the embarrassed mother of the boy didn’t know. She in defense had to tell the whole story of reading newspapers every morning and how the boy had come across this particular story and thanks to the good humour and gossipy nature of women they started discussing about the story themselves. Not only this, spelling mistakes, use of wrong ‘mathras’. And these are copied by young kids to their answer scripts. We learn them thoroughly everyday and yet overlook.
Now the question is, we lived in that age of journalism where newspaper was not only a piece broadening your information or enlightening about new events but also learning the language which we read and followed. There was a certain clerk in my mother’s office who learnt English totally by reading The Statesman in the office. He came to the office to work as a sweeper. Right now he is a permanent employee and not only that a clerk! So where is the language going? Also the introduction of colloquial language and slangs also, can we risk the kids to adopt them?
Just today I met a friend of mine. He mentions, “My day doesn’t end without reading Anandabazaar even though their spelling, their use of ‘mathras’ is going nowhere. Yet it’s been a habit.”
The only difference between my friend and a six year old, who is asked at home to read the paper, is my friend will notice the mistakes may overlook and not give a damn or try mending it whereas the six year old has just started to read and learn and will adopt those wrong dialects. So will you let your child learn the wrong lingua franca or ask the responsible people to mind the language?!