Read Aloud Festival 2020 with Writer Vijayalakshmi Harish: “Reading aloud makes words take physical form, and envelop me in a hug.”

This guest piece is a part of the Read Aloud Festival 2020, organised by Hasirudala and Buguri Community Libraries, and supported by Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz. We reached out to children’s books’ authors and editors, community library groups, educators, parents, and other practitioners to share their personal experiences of read alouds and the benefits the practice promises.

Scrolling through Twitter one day, I came across a post by someone about what a harrowing experience reading aloud was for them as a school student. The person shared how they would count the number of people ahead of them, to try and estimate which passage they would have to read, so that they could practice reading it ahead of time, because if they made a mistake while reading it, they would be made fun of.

I can empathize, because I felt similarly about being made to recite multiplication tables in front of the whole class. However, the tweet also made me incredibly sad, because I was one of those kids who LOVED to read aloud. Not that I didn’t make mistakes. I stumbled over words, mispronounced new words, and sometimes just twisted my tongue, so that even familiar words came out sounding weird! Yet, I loved it, because words didn’t scare me. I knew I was a good reader, who sometimes made mistakes, and I became a good reader because I was fortunate enough to be born in a home that was full of books, to convent educated parents who taught me to love books, and to love reading. I still remember my mother teaching me to read, her tongue crafting each syllable with care, till they became my familiar best friends. I wasn’t dyslexic –the alphabets didn’t swim in front of my eyes.

Those who struggled to read aloud may not have had these advantages.  They struggled, and their struggle made them draw further away from the experience.

I wish that it hadn’t been turned into a “competition.” I wish reading were not treated as “proof” of being a good student. I wish there had been more patience, more care and less teasing. I wish reading in English was not prized or prioritized over reading in other languages. I wish it had been as fun for everyone as it was, and continues to be, for me.

I can’t do much about how other teachers/parents approach reading aloud, except to suggest to them that they make it fun. I am neither a parent nor a teacher, but I have resolved that if I ever have the opportunity to be either, I will instill a joy of reading aloud in the children that are in my care.

Weirdly enough, I think that the antidote to the fear and discomfort of reading aloud is…reading aloud. Read aloud to them, and invite them to add their voice to yours. Read a poem that rhymes, and invite them to chant along. Read a story about animals, and ask them to roar, chitter and trumpet with you. Introduce them to audiobooks.

Reading is not just a visual activity. It is, and always will be an auditory experience as well, because even when one reads “silently,” we do often assign different voices to different characters in our mind, don’t we?

Even today, I occasionally read aloud. For a speed reader like me, it is like meditation. I use it when I intentionally want to slow down my reading and pay attention to the words. A passage in a book that is beautiful and lyrical. Or a passage that is particularly moving or inspirational.

Reading aloud makes them come alive. The words bloom in my mouth and reverberate in my chest. It is as if they take physical form, and envelop me in a hug.

As a writer too, I have found that reading aloud my own writing gives me a better sense of how a particular line or phrase works, and how the reader may experience it. I daresay it makes me a better writer.

This Republic Day, I made a video of myself reading aloud the Preamble to the Constitution. Given the growing division in our society, I thought that we needed a reminder of our basic rights and the message of equality enshrined in the same. And it wasn’t enough to just write it out –no, I must say it, I thought. Saying the words aloud grants them a power that just writing them doesn’t.

I’m glad to report that those who watched the video felt the same. Many commented on how they felt that my reading of it seemed to be filled with conviction and strength, and to be honest, reading it aloud also filled me with a deeper sense of positivity and hope.

That is the joy and magic of reading aloud!

Written by: Vijayalakshmi Harish

Audio editing by: Shruti Sharada

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