It’s always a pleasure to see people’s faces when I tell them I’m (or rather, was) a student of English Literature. But honestly, it’s not what it seems like. Some of the questions that I get asked include:
Oh. English Literature? How much did you get in tenth?
Well, quite honestly, I got really good marks. Percentage in the 90s. Sucker.
My, my! Why didn’t you do Engineering?
I’d much rather study human beings and their expressions rather than machines and buildings. Or whatever it is that you do.
So you’ll get married after your degree?
Um, maybe after my Ph D?
So before you spot a Lit student and asked them these questions, make sure you don’t sound retarded. Here’s a definitive guide to a Lit student’s mind.
We read. A lot.
It’s not always fiction, either. We read a lot of opinion papers, papers on popular culture, watch movies. It’s a blend of fun and work. But mostly work. So before you ask us to leave that book behind, know we are reading 3 novels, 2 epic poetry and 1 essay on Literary Feminism in India and a book on post-colonialism. And at our best, we might finish it all in a week.
We don’t only read Shakespeare.
We don’t only read medieval literature or Victorian/ Edwardian era novels either. It might surprise you, but we read a lot of Indian authors as well. I personally believe Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the finest writers in recent times.
We love our books, but can’t help scribbling notes next to them.
We love scribbling notes, because where else can we translate our sudden ideas into words?
We’re generally always Grammar Nazis.
We prefer yous to u and know exactly when to use there, their, and they are. We might even joke about that time somebody used an oxford comma wrong. You may laugh, but we can make you cry, if you want to.
We analyze everything we read.
Sometimes it might be over analyzing, but we are wired to read between the lines so much, that you might actually be surprised by the ten different meanings we can come up with of that text you sent.
We write. A lot.
No, I don’t mean that potential novel, or that short story, or a blog post. But we write a lot of literary criticism. The angles at which a book, a novel, or a movie would be attacked might surprise you. The amount of time we spend in perfecting that essay on the Americanization of Indian Society: A perspective in Advertising, or The American Dream and Indian Popular Culture, or Victorian Society and Indian Contemporary Issues, Harry Potter and the gender identification discourse is hilariously crazy. But in the end, it feels like we uncovered a gem.
We write better than you.
Because we have read better books than that trashy romance you seem to swear your life on. So we know what’s good writing.
We watch a lot of movies.
Not always for fun, though. We might watch an old Italian movie and look for issues and conflicts. We might watch a very violent documentary and try to analyze it- the kind of movies we watch surpasses time, culture, and language. So you might hate subtitles, but to us, subtitles is the only way to watch that German movie about spies, or that Finnish movie about rape.
We swear by movies like Midnight in Paris and The Dead Poets’ Society.
Unlike you, we know that words are swoonworthy, and poems are just… asdfkg.
We have extremely high expectation from our romantic partners.
I mean, come on! Do you think you come close to Mr. Darcy? Or Mr. Rochester? Heathcliff? Rhett Butler? Kabir Durrani? It’s a shame we have to settle for thick pseudo- macho men sometimes.
Or non feisty girls.
We love poetry.
Poetry.. changes you. Yes. You may not know that because you don’t understand. But nothing ever has been written as beautifully as “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weed.” or The Funeral Blues.
Half the time (shh!) we have no clue what that poem means.
Till we’ve spent an hour long lecture trying to get over the shock of Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet 11, or make sense of T S Elliot’s Wasteland, an undergrad lit class is incomplete. Even then, that poem sometimes does not make sense to us.
But when we do and love it we would defend it to death.
Hate The Great Gatsby? You don’t know! It defines a whole generation of Americans who returned from war. Shut up. It’s awesome.
We study hard.
It might seem like we are just reading books and watching movies all the time. But it’s coursework. Just because we enjoy what we study doesn’t mean we don’t study.
We love bookstores, but also hate them.
We love them for all the obvious reasons. And hate them because, we don’t have enough money to buy all books, or the time to read them all. It makes us morose. We also hate that we don’t have a decent library around our houses that stack rare books.
We can quote you back
With all the training in quoting texts for never ending exams (because how many ever essays we turn in our final grades depend on those stupid paper pencil tests) we are highly skilled in quoting back words that you uttered.
We hate pretentious authors and pseudo intellectuals.
Especially the kinds who look for realism in Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, or refute the credibility of Jane Eyre in an otherwise male dominated culture.
We love letters, telegrams, and even emails.
Most of us love snail mails, telegrams, notes and even emails. Don’t ask why. A perfect birthday gift might just be a handwritten letter.
The books are always, always better than the movie.
Which book? Any book.
Image credit : http://mancunion.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/5321475505_c26ff74df2.jpg
About author : Arathy Puthillam is a 3rd year Psychology student (B.A) at St. Xavier’s College (autonomous), Mumbai.