A staunch supporter in the ‘Catch’em young’ dictum , Nandan Menon believed firmly that children have to be introduced to literature in their early years. When they grow up, their interest would flower and flourish, he used to say.
Naturally, he was eager to practise his theory on his twin sons Suresh and Ramesh. What better way, he thought, than to initiate them to the Bard of Avon. He chose the story of Hamlet as the ideal vehicle to lead them to the glories of Shakespeare.
So, it was one Sunday morning that Nandan Menon sank into his favourite easy-chair and the kids, not exactly pleased with the prospects of being torn away from the adventures of Scooby-Doo on the TV, sat reluctantly at his feet.
‘Today I’ll tell you the story of Hamlet by Shakespeare,’ Menon said, ‘but before that I must tell you that there are some who believe that Shakespeare never wrote those plays. They believe that the plays were actually written by Bacon.’
‘How can that be?’ asked Ramesh incredulously?
Trying not to get annoyed at the interruption before he could get going, the father retorted, ‘How can what be? Your silly questions…’
‘How could that man Ham write…’
‘I said Bacon,’ Menon said helpfully.
‘Well, how could that man Bacon write it if the other man had already written it?’ There was genuine concern in the voice of Ramesh.
‘But those people don’t believe that Shakespeare wrote them, you see,’ Menon clarified.
‘Okay, then how can Shakespeare have his name printed on the book?’ it was the turn of Suresh. ‘And if this man Eggs did write…’
‘I said Bacon,’ Menon said for the second time. Realising that he had better get to the point soon instead of getting caught in these fine points, he added quickly, ‘Well, about the play. There was a man called Hamlet who …’
‘You mean Bacon,’ interjected Suresh knowingly.
‘I do not mean Bacon,’ Menon snapped. The ‘not’ reverberated in the room for a while.
‘But, daddy, you just now told us that he was called Bacon,’ both said defensively in a chorus.
‘I did not say he was called Bacon.’
Said Suresh politely, ‘Excuse me, dad, but you did. When Ramesh called him Ham, you said it was Bacon. And now you are making the same mistake yourself, saying he is not Bacon.’
‘This was a different man,’ Nandan must have lost his temper without his knowledge, for he saw the twin sons cowering. Soon, he gathered himself and said, ‘Now we are talking of another man. He was called Hamlet. His uncle killed his father because he wanted to marry his mother.’
‘Never heard of anyone wanting to marry his mother. What did he want to marry his mother for?’ Ramesh was back to his mood of launching his volley of questions.
Perceiving this grammatical solescism as the golden chance to show Ramesh his place, Nandan mounted his onslaught. ‘One may not end one’s sentences in prepositions as you have done, commiting a grave lapse. And I have told you the story of Oedipus, son of who Laius, King of Thebes.’ After a pause, he added, ‘According to the Greek legend, he wanted to, and did, marry his mother Jocasta, killing his father, unwittingly, though.’
Having scored a point there, Nandan put on a scholarly demeanour and went on, ‘That, however, is beside the point. It was Hamlet’s mother he wanted to marry,’
‘Oh, that man who, some people think, wrote the play,’ suggested Ramesh helpfully, unfazed by the criticism about the linguistic lapse and the ignorance of Greek legends.
‘No, you are talking of Bacon.’
‘A minute ago, you said it was Ham,’ Ramesh wailed. He looked plaintively at Suresh, who came to his rescue, ‘When we say Ham, you say it was Bacon and when we say Bacon, you say it was Ham.’
Distraught, Menon thundered, ‘Will you listen? This man Hamlet decided to kill his uncle.’
‘I told you: his uncle had killed his father.’
‘His father too?’ Suresh was curious to know.
Through his clenched teeth, words came out of the father, ‘Hamlet’s father.’ And he hurried on, not stopping to give an opportunity to put in a word edgeways, ‘There was this beautiful girl Hamlet wanted to marry.’
‘But you just said he wanted to marry his mother,’ Ramesh pointed an accusing finger at what he thought was my inconsistency.
‘I did not, dash it,’ Nandan exclaimed, lapsing momentarily, and pardonably, into some cusswords under his breath. He regained his composure in no time and continued his narration, ‘Well, this girl fell into the river. It was supposed to be an accident, but probably, …’
‘He pushed her in?’ Suresh completed my sentence on my behalf.
‘Who pushed her in?’ Despite his best efforts, Menon could not mask his irritability.
‘I thought you were going to say this man Bacon pushed her in,’ explained Suresh.
‘Hamlet, you mean,’ Nandan Menon tried to help him.
‘No, I mean Bacon,’ insisted Suresh.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ Ramesh said confidingly, ‘we get muddled because of these names. Let’s say Eggs for both Bacon and Ham. That way we won’t get mixed up. Eggs, then, means Ham or Bacon, whoever of these it was.’
Nandan Menon says that but for his iron will, he would have been overcome by the strong desire to migrate to Siberia.