Opening of a Magical Portal
“Will you only flip through the pages or read as well?” said his father, a sparse man in his mid – thirties reclining on the chair in front of him. He opened the book and looked at the first page. A sea of letters swam in front his eyes. He tried to focus on the first line. But the cows and hens would not let him concentrate. They kept distracting him with their clucks and moos. Then his eyes moved towards the small pond where ducks were paddling lazily. He loved to watch the ducks. They looked so elegant in their white, green and grey. He had never seen ducks before coming to Ernakulam. Now after being here for four months, they still seemed to hold the same fascination.
“Here, let me get you started,” said his father and started with the first line. “Once upon a time there lived a jackal in a jungle.” Father paused and looked at him. “Did you understand?” He had a blank look. “Don’t you know what a jackal means?” The boy nodded his head. “And you definitely know what a jungle is.” The boy again nodded his head. ”Then what did you not understand?”
The boy said nothing. “Here you read the next line.” The boy took the book and began to read struggling from word to word. “The jackal had not eaten for the last two days and he was very hungry. Suddenly he smelt some food in the distance” He caught the smell of cow dung from the cow shed below mingled with the smell of dampness from the stagnant water in the pond. He wrinkled his nose.
“So explain what you understood from what you just read”
He explained about the hungry jackal looking for food in Tamil. His father nodded his head and asked him to proceed with the reading. Slowly the frequency and duration of breaks between the reading were reducing. The boy's explanations were becoming lucid. Things did not seem so hard any longer. He was able to vaguely feel a jungle around him. He had never seen a jungle. But most of his grandfather’s stories had jungles in them and the idea of a jungle excited him. He knew a jungle had trees and animals. He had of course seen trees and he had a whole collection of little animal toys. He just had to superimpose the two and presto! There was a dense jungle all around him. The jackal in the book cover materialized in the jungle right in front of him.
As he read on, the jackal disappeared. He was not a boy anymore. He was now a jackal. He caught the smell of food which seemed very much like that of his mother’s cooking. He approached slowly. He heard a strange noise that went ‘Boom’, ‘Boom'. He was now scared. He wanted to turn back and flee with his tail between his legs. But he was too hungry. He gingerly took one step at a time and proceeded in the direction of the delicious smell till he caught sight of the large war drum. The wind was shaking the tree and a branch beating down upon the drum, making the strange sounds. He was relieved. If he had been scared he would have missed the sumptuous meal that lay all around the drum.
The smell of food had become very strong and he felt very hungry. He heard a familiar shrill feminine voice calling out his name. The jungle around him slowly began to disappear and he was no longer a jackal. But the smell of food still persisted. He found himself back in the balcony of his home sitting in front of his father a book in hand. His mother was calling him for food. A magical portal had been opened to him, a portal to many worlds and myriad of experiences: the pleasure of reading.