Thursday, April 21, 2016

TO SIR WITH LOVE by E. R. BRAITHWAITE: A Review

The Commentator says;
The previous year, a friend of mine spoke about this book. It was during her farewell party. We both worked at the same college. She spoke of her time at the college, the struggles and fun she had as a teacher. Then she said this book reflected her being with an unspeakable ingenuity that was unbeknownst to her before. I decided right then that I’d get my hands on this book when the next door of opportunity shows itself.

To Sir, with Love tells the story of Mr. Braithwaite. It’s an autobiographical novel. This novel offers a classroom drama with an amalgam of varied themes such as racism, love, personal empowerment, religion, God, etc. The classroom setting offers a fertile ground for the rest of the discussion. This gives the novelist the best device to explore the many layers of these themes and their varied implications. The Indian Commentator loved the craftsmanship of E R Braithwaite. But Commentator is also aware that this is not a work of fiction. Perhaps, you might call this book a nonfiction novel… you know… like Capote did with his book In Cold Blood.

Often the Commentator felt that the author is rather conservative in his attitude. However, his strategies seem to instill in teachers who read this book a set of solutions for their own classrooms. This part, I think, is the best angle to view the book. Yes, To Sir, with Love is also a self-help book. I mean, you can read it that way too. You can also read To Sir, with Love as a passionate story of a man’s journey towards his conquering his own inner conflicts.

To Sir, with Love has visual quality. The Commentator hadn’t watched the movie adaptation of this novel yet. But the scenes were, nevertheless, being played out in my mind. Braithwaite, the protagonist, the black teacher who joins Greenslade School, a secondary school in London's East End finds his journey as a teacher transformative. It is interesting how a classroom could be transformative and crucial for both the teacher and students. The cliché, normally, places the students on the receiving end of this transformative arch. To Sir, with Love is a relevant example for students of this generation to experience what it means to be in the shoes of the person who teaches them in the classroom. At least, they must realize that teachers, too, are human beings and have emotions and responsibilities at the same time. Perhaps, those who are teachers among the readers could comment on this issue better. The Commentator leaves this space for them to comment upon.

E R Braithwaite demonstrates that the menace of racism has both the perpetrator and the victim encamped. Within the territory of racist world view, the victim’s mentality is equally corrupted as the perpetrator’s attitude. The lively space of the novel provides ample scope for exploring the subtle tones of European version of racism. Braithwaite comments that in Britain racism is more subtle than in the US. In the US, racism is more open and direct. He considers this an advantage of the US society.

Originally an engineer in the army, Braithwaite searches for jobs after his service in the army. However, he fails to pitch himself for a good job. Once the hope of getting a job in Britain for a black man evaporates, Braithwaite applies for a teaching job. Another aspect of this novel is its handling of the teacher character. No attempt to idealize the motive of the protagonist sets it apart. What the protagonist does in favor of his class is the direct and rather pragmatic solution for keeping his hard-earned job for some more time. There is no ideal teacher. There is only a man trying to hold on during worst-looking times.

The Commentator thinks that To Sir, with Love could make an excellent Malayalam movie. The reality and human interactions portrayed in this movie are very much relevant in today’s Kerala. To Sir, with Love is highly recommended.

Details:
To Sir, with Love: E R Braithwaite
First published: 1959
Publisher: The Bodley Head
Movie Adaptations: To Sir, with Love (1967)
To Sir, With Love also won Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

THE PETRICHOR OF MEMORIES

Writing is hard work. Physically, it tires the person who engages in the process. Ironically, habitual writers often feel depressed at the lack of enough writing hours. Perhaps, it’s just a habit taking its toll. Perhaps, it’s the addiction to the world inside one’s head. I get exhausted, wanting to fill myself with something to eat, mostly after long hours of writing.

Writing is craft. I think what’s more important is the ability to tell stories. We all are storytellers in one way or another. Just think about the act of recollecting some old happening from your memory lane. Retrieving an old event from the store house of memory is a very apt example for storytelling. Most of us, most of the time, fill the gaps in our memories with invented stories just to match the feeling we experienced at the end of the narrative.

Memories are like rain. They give us the petrichor that physically move us into vibrations that are not preexisting in our being. In India, especially, South India, where I belong, this is summer season. Scorching heat, dust, and sweat mark our daily reality. Tomorrow, that is, the fourteenth of April is a festival in Kerala, known as Vishu. It’s celebrated by bursting firecrackers and observing the auspicious kani. Kani is an arrangement of the produce of the season, including the beautiful golden shower flower [Cassia fistula], a mirror, in some regions in Kerala, and some coins. There will also be an idol of Krishna in some houses. Vishu is both a cultural and agricultural festival. The reason for firecrackers is still out of my comprehension. But I do enjoy them, when I see the ‘firebrands’ spitting multicolored effects. I have no liking for crackers. So I keep myself away from them, ever since I was a child. You can judge me as a fear stricken person. But I’d say it’s prudence. With the recent temple fire tragedy in Kollam as a sample, you may see some sense in my ‘prudence’.   

Regarding this year’s Vishu or about the previous year’s we all may have stories to share. That makes us all partners in the unending alchemy of storytelling. I remember listening to older folks talk about their youth and childhood days, when, they say, Vishu was better and more festive than today’s. Listening to their stories, I never once doubted their proclamation. Their stories were evidence of the undying spirit of festivity in their mind.
Image Courtesy: wikimedia.org

I wish all my fellow beings a very happy Vishu. The name of the celebration might be different in your part of the country. But it’s always the stories you tell that matters.

Note:
Petrichor PRONUNCIATION:(PET-ri-kuhr) MEANING: noun: The pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.

PS: After writing down these five hundred words, I feel my tummy burning for something to eat. I am going to have a heavy meal tonight.

This blog post follows after a long hiatus. Thank you for stopping by. Your presence is my encouragement. Keep visiting. Please do post a comment, if you have time.
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