I was a nerd. And a total geek. And now I proudly own these terms and know that my husband might even find me sexy due to them but there was a time when being a geek was a lonely life.
I wasn’t a geek by choice though. I just loved to be academically excellent and well-read. I was an early reader. I was recognizing letters at eight months and talking at one. Because my parents lived with my paternal grandparents and I was the only child in the house, my grandfather found a hobby in me. He tutored me everyday since I was six months.
And I’m not using the word “tutor” lightly. He really taught me from a book when I was six months. By eight months I was pointing at letters and pictures and by my first birthday I could read letters in two languages, numbers and could repeat most language. I could also answer simple questions.
By the time I was three, I was reading at first grade level. It was all because of my grandfather who had recently had a heart attack and spent most of his time at home and therefore found a project in me to address his spare time.
So I grew up reading naturally. When I was less than 3, my grandpa passed away. I didn’t even know who he was besides he was my grandpa. My mom told me later how he had sown the seed of book reading in me.
But my paternal grandmother was quick to replace the space that her husband’s death had created. She took my literary grooming more seriously and started teaching me to read Quran. Of course she was an excellent teacher. She was also very strict.
She was a very literary woman. She quoted Saadi, Jami, Socrates, Plato, Khalil Jibran, Aristotle, the Mughals, many prolific Urdu writers routinely. She had little time for Sufism but revered Islamic history in its very original form. She quoted Muhammad (May Allah be always pleased with him) and his followers and friends, frequently. She knew many Quranic Ayah and made story time out of many prophets’ lives. If truth be told, she has been the biggest Islamic influence in my life. She made me understand Islam and even though she practiced some redundant and irrelevant concepts with Islam (biddat) she overall practiced Islam in a very pure form. She had a masters in Islamic Studies (or an equivalent degree) and had a deep love for Urdu literature. She could almost fluently read English but couldn’t speak it as fluently.
My father inspired me to read political literature. He made me read famous revolutionary poets like Faiz, Faraz, John Aylia. He encouraged me to read taboo writers like Manto and Krishan Chandar. He made me see how diversity in reading leads to expansion in knowledge and intellect. No one has inspired me ever like my parents have. In almost every sphere of my life. They’ve usually been the example I’ve looked for.
But wait! My teachers inspired me too. Many of them. They encouraged me to write. They told me to match my reading with writing and let them see how much I was learning. I know what you’re thinking! Why can’t teachers just let us be? I think I know now when I’m a teacher to my kids. Teachers always want to be prouder of their children. They always want us to test our limits and reach our potential. There’s a reason why the most relentless people make teachers. It’s a job that requires tough love and persistence. It requires faith in a child when no one trusts that child.
So what happens when a geek is constantly validated by people she looks up to? You got it! She becomes confident. She strives to reach her best too. She sets goals for herself too. She starts to take pleasure in walking the road less traveled. She then realizes that it’s lonely on that road.
I felt the same. For many years. My cousins and I were close for years and then we weren’t. I had limited interest in girly things and sleep overs. I found my parents’ company way more stimulating. I played video games with my dad and siblings. I read in my spare time and I was transported to lands that could only be created by writers who spun webs of imagery and fascinating plots. I read poetry sometimes and Faiz and Faraz became my favorites. Later, when I found out that my Dad’s first ever gift to my Mom was Parveen Shakir’s “Khushboo” I devoured that book and acknowledged my parents’ amazing taste in poetry. This led to my love for music and Pakistani folk music. It all started from reading. And slowly my loneliness was replaced by books.
So much, so much is possible for a child who reads. I find reading cathartic, comforting and sometimes counseling. Sometimes reading is a pastime and sometimes it’s a life-saver. Sometimes a book is a friend and sometimes it can make us question our belief system. Such is the power of reading.
Let kids read. Early on. When their imagination knows no bounds. When they still think that unicorns are jumping over the rainbow above them, a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. When they still believe in a mermaid who is beautiful like nothing else. When they still consider goblins and elves creatures who can be found in a land far, faraway.
On this 103rd birthday of Roald Dahl, give your child the gift of imagination. And imagination usually starts with a book.