Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reading and writhing

I think it was in the first week of college that one of our lecturers gathered together all the first-year students (not just the English Literature students) for some forthcoming in-house “culturals”. She then asked for volunteers to read aloud a short poem by Robert Frost (incidentally, one of my all-time favourite poets because his poems are so deceptively simple, beautifully descriptive and easy to understand), so that she could choose the best among us for whatever programme she had in mind for the culturals.

Now I’ve always suffered from an extreme reluctance to be the centre of attention for any reason – in other words, terrible stage fright – but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to volunteer to read aloud to a giggling gaggle of total strangers. No, actually I DO remember the reason – I really wanted a different persona, to be seen as someone who was gregarious, fun, spontaneous, maybe even a leader of – erm, women, I suppose… and I thought that I could be whoever I wanted to be, as none of the girls there knew me, or what I was like, at all.

What I discovered that day was that it’s really very difficult to get over who you are (especially if you’re like me - reserved to a fault, difficult to get on with and borderline unfriendly unless there is a “vibe”) to be the person you want to be, even if you have a blank canvas of an audience to work with. So let’s just say that it was not exactly a scintillating reading that I did – I was trembling, my hands were icy cold in contrast to my face which felt red-hot (that was one of the times that I really blessed my dark complexion, because a fair skin would have shown me up as beet-red), and my voice was nearly inaudible. And what was audible shook like Talat Mehmood’s singing on a really good day, except mine was not deliberate.

I clearly remember how impatient the lecturer was when I finished. She grabbed the book from me, saying (extra loudly, I thought as I squirmed in embarrassment): “That was absolutely terrible! This is a beautiful poem meant to be read softly, with emotion, not rattled off without pause or expression! Here, I’ll read it out and you can see the difference!” (Those were pretty much her exact words, by the way. You don't easily forget those occasions of self-induced embarrassment.)

That was the last time I volunteered to read anything in public. I’m glad to say, though, that my written work revised the lecturer’s (very probable) opinion of me as a poetry-mangling literature-loathing lump of a first-year Eng Lit student. Perhaps I couldn’t read, but I certainly could write.

Which is why
this article I came across in the Times Online website was intriguing. I don’t know how good I would be at reading aloud – but I think I could manage with an audience of one or two people. I know absolutely that I have no trouble reading aloud to kids, or telling them stories with the appropriate voice approximations (squeaky for mouse, growly for lion and so on) - and for proof I have a once-little-and-now-20-years-of-age cousin who still remembers the story of "Cheeko and Rajah", a monkey and an elephant respectively. (Hell, she couldn't not remember it, because it was her favourite story and I must have narrated it to her, on request, about a zillion times. It's definitely branded into MY brain, and I'm pretty sure that not even Alzheimer's could make me forget that story!)

What a nice job it would be, though, to read aloud to people in a posh hotel room - and get paid for it. I've read aloud to Pete before, but now I must do so again with the intention of being evaluated for clarity, ability to hold interest and such other qualities as are necessary for a professional read-alouder. (Is there a technical term for this job post, I wonder, and does one have to be trained at a drama academy to qualify?)

Oh, and for those interested to know which poem by Robert Frost we were asked to read aloud, it's this one:

The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.


Radha said...

ME! I want to try too!

??! said...

Is there a technical term for this job post, I wonder?

Shyam said...

??! - That did cross my mind, but an orator is actually someone who makes speeches - a public speaker.

Kamini said...

We must be long-separated twins! You sound so much like me!
The reader in residence job does sound like a dream one. I have read for children (always such a pleasure, one can make a complete fool of oneself and be appreciated for it) in libraries and classrooms, and somehow my usual loathing of speaking in public was not a hindrance.
By the way, I loved the title of your post - very clever!

Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

I love reading aloud and whenever I have, it's been good. (Oh, modesty, where are you?)I think I have done it about twice(!) on request -- to adults, that is. Made me feel important and rather pompous;) But I have my wown yaccent yand yai don't yeven ca(h)re. You am sure would be excellent if only you stopped bothering about your audience!


Gee. I had no idea you had that problem :-)) Actually i have the same problem too sometimes....(it just shows up...most cases it goes away after sometime..but in other situations...its just one giant stumble after another)...I think the trick is to keep doing it often enough that eventually at a point its just habit...

Anonymous said...

The only time I read aloud was when Appa had a cataract surgery and asked me to read the newspaper. He was as appreciative of my reading as your lecturer was of yours. And oh! I read the news at the school assembly a few times and each time the Principal asked, in the presence of the entire school, if I was rushing to catch a train.