Thursday, 26 January 2012

Posthumously Yours

I got a posthumous award. Yet again. 

Thank you Charles Dickens for making me famous! 

I taught your Great Expectations to groups of unwilling youngsters for five years of my life. Bored by the very sight of the thick book, the greatest favour they did to me was stay awake. We spent fruitless hours discussing why Estella was so cold & London so dreary. And even, how could you even think of writing such a book! The more direct, "Why do we have to read all this @#$% ", I could attribute to the Council! We should have Councils for all of life's ailments. Makes life easier, you see. Especially for the English teacher.

The first posthumous honour came my way when Onu told me on gtalk that he was proud that he could discuss a 'classic like Great Expectations with elan' with his college mates. My heart jumped to my throat to hear your book actually being termed a 'classic'. After the years of , 'Oh Gawd, not again!', this was music to my ears, manna to my parched soul. By then I had moved from the academia to the corporate but the 'once a teacher always a teacher' maxim suddenly made sense!

And yesterday when I visited you (I just wish I were 200 years early!), P (the techie that he is) updated that as my Facebook status. With the picture of a delighted me standing outside your front door.

 Many of your readers, my erstwhile students, 'liked' it. And some even commented on that pic. Can you believe it Mr Dickens, Mayank actually quoted the opening lines of GE! And Akash tells me he remembers how I made them read your book in class. 

I haven't told them as yet that I thought of them so much when we were seeing the video about your life & work; when we were in your sitting room imagining you there; admiring your library & your literary genius; smiling at the letter you wrote to the clock shop & generally soaking in the Dickensian ambiance.


Must read!
You almost resembled our Shashi Kapoor in your heydays, I thought :) And what a beautiful couple you & Catherine make! 

Catherine Hogarth
The Wedding gift 
Charles Dickens

The engagement ring

Catherine's handkerchieves

After ten children & a long marriage it was unfortunate that you decided to part ways. Heartening was the fact that you stayed on amicable terms & exchanged meaningful exchanges on many matters of interest. How you proclaimed the annulment of your marriage to the world was scandalous for those times. In no way did it affect your literary pursuit, though.
Declaration of divorce

Mary Hogarth, your sister-in-law, was a person you deeply admired. She lived with you & Catherine from almost immediately after your marriage in 1836. Did the intensity of your affection for her sister make Catherine insecure ? Mary's death at the young age of seventeen left you & your wife heartbroken. And Mary's dying in your arms cemented that image in your mind for ever. So much so that a professional man like you was unable to write the weekly papers that you were doing those days. Did that scar ever heal, Mr Dickens? Did that in any way create that irreparable chasm between you & your wife? History has various records but did anyone truly peep into the many folds of your intelligent mind? Or that vulnerable heart?
Dickens' Sister in Law

How dogged determination & genius create successes your Pickwick Papers proved. From the youngster working in the black ink factory & repaying your father's debt to the astute businessman & professional writer you shaped yourself into is an inspiration to millions. " Dickens was a man who set goals for himself & then achieved them,'' said the video. When your father pointed to the house at 48 Doughty Street & said it may be yours, you came back to acquire it! 

This is how Doughty Street looks now. How different was it in mid 1800s?

Dickens' neighbourhood

When you looked out of your bedroom window, could you see what I am seeing now?
It is amazing how the Trust has maintained your house for posterity. The floral carpet in your drawing room is as green as ever; the mirrors on the wall retain their gloss; the switches wear a dated look but shine like new; the books in your library are yellow with age but remain as they were when you turned them. 
The Sitting Room

The desk that you worked at as a clerk; your wine cellar; even a modern representation of your dustbin, they are all there! What an absolute delight for a literature lover! The Still Room with its lentils & garlic makes one look out for a scullery maid in her can-can dress!

The Still Room

Your bedroom now houses, apart from books, a model of the building, some paintings, an oriental clock & of course that beautiful mirror fit for a queen.

Commendable is the restoration & expansion work that the Heritage Lottery Fund has taken up. The upkeep of heritage is mandatory for a nation's rootedness & consequently, growth. Also, volunteering for your museum will be a dream for many! I wish I stayed closer to your house, Sir!

You'd be proud to see the paraphernalia the Gift Shop sells. Apart from your classics, of course. Especially fascinating for me was the Dickens gift wrapper!

Not that you were a stranger to fame. Your Pickwick Papers became such a rage that there were Pickwick T-shirts, Pickwick hats & what not! You surely know your worth Sir. No wonder the gloss of America left you cold when you had gone there for your book reading. They paid you less than what you thought you deserved; did not like all of what you had to say & generally, did not vibe too well with your Victorian sensibilities. Not that you were greedy; just that you were worth more. And you knew it! A lesson for all of us here, after almost a century & a half of your passing...

As I left your house last evening, I felt like Oliver Twist.
I have to tell Priyanka, " Don't be J, this visit was on behalf of all those I've shared Raghukul Tilak with :) 

PS: Raghukul Tilak & Ramjilal did guide books in our University days, days when we only read from those, and never the Classics ;)

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