‘I am learning: I can compare what is happening in the book to my own culture’ – Nisha’s Reader Story
This Reader Story was collected and written by Fiona Magee.
"Tell about the house, George," Lennie begged.
"Sure, we'd have a little house an' a room to ourself. Little fat iron stove, an' in the winter we'd keep a fire goin' in it. It ain't enough land so we'd have to work too hard. Maybe six, seven hours a day. We wouldn't have to buck no barley eleven hours a day. An' when we put in a crop, why, we'd be there to take the crop up. We'd know what come of our planting."
"An' rabbits," Lennie said eagerly. "An' I'd take care of 'em. Tell how I'd do that, George."
…George stood up. "We'll do her," he said. "We'll fix up that little old place an' we'll go live there." He sat down again. They all sat still, all bemused by the beauty of the thing, each mind was popped into the future when this lovely thing should come about.
(Extract from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck)
I come from India, then I lived in Uganda – I was a teacher in Maths over there. I had some English but mainly it was my own language. When Idi Amin made us leave the country I came to the UK. That was in 1972, through the government scheme. We didn’t have any money, no house, nothing. We came only with the thirty pounds we were given and with two babies!
My first degree is in Chemistry and Physics from India, but it was so dry. Even though I was a science student, from the beginning I was really very fond of classical literature. Without literature everything felt so dry, I didn’t feel rich. I attended many reading groups – my hobby was always reading a lot of poetry in my own language, Gujarati. Very high-level poetry by Kalapi, Kabir, Rumi, Hafiz.
When I got here, I always used to order a lot of that same literature from India – I would go all the way across London to Wembley to collect the books. I started at the local college, but I didn’t have much English and I was working and had my family, I couldn’t do more. I worked until I was 78. I am 80 now. I was a lecturer, teaching Accounting, but still, English is my second language. And English literature – that was the part that was still missing for me.
Last year, a person at my ESOL group asked me if I wanted to come to the Shared Reading group, so I said,
‘OK, I will try.’ I’ve got so many other Zoom activities but the reading, it is really very good. It is a challenge.
This book we are reading, Of Mice and Men is a kind of beautiful classical book and the message behind this book is very related to the current time of the world. With everyone in the book, there is so much planning – to buy a house, some land, plant something here – and it’s the same thing in life right now: my 80th birthday – I wanted to take my family to go and travel in India, and my niece was getting married in Iran, but everything is cancelled. So although you plan, it doesn’t happen. But, without dreams you can’t realise things in life – it gives me food for thought. I am learning: I can compare what is happening in the book to my own culture and I think about how I can relate to them both.
You know, I read the book in two days! I don’t have anything else to do. But I stopped towards the end and said ‘No, let me stay with the group. Read it with them’ because I like the social aspect of the group. Especially at this time, because we are at home alone, isolated. So being with the people, it’s nice. I really love people, like the volunteer Reader Leader – my God, she is doing it from her heart. And I’m opened to more cultures as well – that is really very important.
Now I read a lot of English – it is such a rich language, all the expressions! In the group someone said, ‘The elephant in the room’ and I thought “What is this elephant in the room?’ I find it so rich. I really love it. And so I want to find out more – I go on to Google and look for more.
A book is a kind of social thing, isn’t it? In the books are people’s lives –
It gives me a lot of energy. I get so excited about what is going on in people’s lives. How this literature is related to a spiritual life, or a psychological life.
It’s a very simple thing. When you notice the light comes up in the sky, and you look – that is the second, the moment that you’ve got. My food is this. I love it. I say to myself, “Forget about my science and my accounting, it’s nothing. Yes, it brought me a comfortable life, a house and a car and I’m fine but it doesn’t satisfy my spirit, I don’t get any food from there”. I cry and cry sometimes when I read the book or read the poem because, it touches my heart: my God, without this food, how would I survive? Without literature it doesn’t feel like living my life.