What ails our young blood? Is it a narrowing down of vision? Of perspective? And why?
Recently I had an occasion to face a few bank officer aspirants. I was to teach them to write a precis and an essay. The candidates were mostly engineering graduates or engineering postgraduates. After the formal introduction, I asked the young hopefuls their marks for English in the Xth class. Not bad. High marks. One of them said he had eighty-five. What more did I need? I was thrilled.
The precis, I told them, had to be roughly one third of the original, written in indirect speech, in third person, and must be objective. Write the precis in your own words, I told them. No jargon, no quotes from the original, no subjective opinion, no illustrations, no cut and paste. It then had to be a mini screen shot of the original in its essence.
And then the essay. I told the hopefuls that every good essay would have an exciting introduction that would attract the examiner to read further on, and that the first paragraph would have to end with a thesis statement that would address the topic and the point of the essay. The exciting introductory paragraph would check out what, where, when, why, and how of the topic or theme. The subsequent paragraphs would argue out or reason out the first few lines of the introduction leading to the thesis statement, which would normally be not more than one sentence. Each paragraph would argue out in defense of the contents of the first paragraph. The last line of each paragraph would summarize the points raised in that paragraph.
The concluding paragraph would have to be as attractive as the introduction. It would sum up the points of the preceding paragraphs. The last line of the conclusion would provide the punch of the essay, the eureka of it all.
Well, I said it. The essay had to be imaginative, and well-illustrated, with anecdotes, quotes and so forth.
I was about to sign off. But then I was curious. I asked each candidate to tell me the title of one or two books that he or she had read. And it was then that I felt deflated, devastated, and defeated. Books? None of them had read any. None before me had even heard of Robinson Crusoe or Friday. No one knew of Gulliver or Charles Lamb. No Perry Mason, no Agatha Christie. Who were they? Would they find them in Google? The eight five mark wala had not even heard of Enid Blyton. Had they heard of one Shakespeare? Yes. In a Malayalam song. Vyasano, Kalidasano, athu Bhasano, Shelleyo, Shakespeareo. Yes, I reassured them. They would surely find Shakespeare on Google. If not, they could WhatsApp me. I could provide them with the Wikipedia link.
(Gopikrishnan Kottoor has won several prestigious awards for his poetry and has several poetry collections to his credit. He is presently working on a Malayalam translation of his play ‘ Nectar of the Gods’. He founded Poetry Chain. He lives in Trivandrum.)