Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Libraries and the Internet

The word “library” was taboo at my high school; teachers and administrators insisted that we call it a “media center” because it contained both books and computers.

The Internet has reshaped the modern library. With tools like Google Scholar and LexisNexis readily available, traditional library skills are nearly obsolete: call cards that use the Dewey Decimal System, SIRS CD-ROMs, and microfiche.

When I compiled a list of my grandfather’s writings, I turned to Google. The list resulted in a response from L, one of my mother’s cousins, who relayed a similar experience in an e-mail:

Your quest to Google reminded me of my own adventure to track down Lala (my grandpa)’s autobiography. Ironically none in our immediate family had a copy. About a year ago I tracked it down in the University of Cambridge library, wrote to them, and received a copy.

L’s e-mail also included some of Thatha’s writings that my initial search had neglected:

1. A Shakespeare Veteran
http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/lr/2003/06/01/stories/2003060100290400.htm

2. FROM HEAD TO FOOT

The name of the parts of the human body are used in a figurative sense in the following Passage:
M. Ramesh is the Head of a college in his town. He has to face many difficult situations. He cannot afford to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to what happens on the campus. He should be capable of nosing trouble. On important occasions, he has to mouth past hands. He has many responsibilities to shoulder. Though he deals with the students with a stern hand, he has a soft heart. Often he has to stomach unpleasant things. In the morning he elbows his way into a crowded bus. In the evening he foots the distance home.
Prof S. Jagadisan

3. Sri Sarada Devi — Mother of the Worlds, Consort of Avatar: Published in a book “Nectar of the Non-Dual Truth”.

I’m currently moving and began packing up my personal library today. As I stuffed papers into boxes, I noticed and opened a file folder marked “THATHA’S ARTICLES.” In it were two of my grandfather’s unpublished manuscripts. Both were pleasant surprises because neither of them were available on the Internet. One of them, a review of Jimmy Carter’s The Virtues of Aging, can be requested from the Jimmy Carter Library. The other is now available in this post:

Stories for the Young: Sandford and Merton

S. Jagadisan

One of the books that I read in my hometown when I was ten (that was about sixty-eight years ago) is the History of Sandford and Merton by Thomas Day (1748-89). When in the sixties of the last century, our family shifted from our hometown, we left behind many articles and books. Sandford and Merton, which formed part of our family archives, was one of them. It was lost beyond recovery. My efforts to get a copy from second-hand bookshops were of no avail. Recently, I told a friend about my loss. My joy knew no bounds when, in a twinkling, he accessed the story on the Internet and gave me a printout.

The story revolves around two boys Tommy Merton and Harry Sandford. Tommy’s father, Mr. Merton, spent many years of his life in Jamaica where he owned a large estate. When Tommy was six, his parents took him to England to be educated. A life of luxury and parental indulgence made Tommy a spoilt child. He had servants to attend on him. Dressed in laced clothes, he went about in a gilded carriage. His mother, doting on him, gave him whatever he asked for. Tommy had no mind to study, since he complained that studies made his head ache. He turned out to be proud, haughty, obstinate, irritable and ill-mannered. Without physical exercise, he was prone to fall sick. When the Mertons went over to England, Tommy was a stranger to reading, writing and polite behaviour.

In that neighbourhood lived a farmer Sandford with his son Harry. Harry was a foil to Tommy in every respect. He was strong of constitution and accustomed to hard work. He was sympathetic to the poor and kind to the birds and animals. His pleasant, friendly manners endeared him to everyone. Mr. Barlow, the parish priest, was pleased with Harry’s honesty, simplicity and good nature and taught him to read and write.

An accident brought Tommy and Harry together. One day, as Tommy was walking in the fields, a snake coiled itself around his leg. He was gripped with fear and Harry, who happened to pass that way, held the snake by its neck and flung it. When Tommy’s parents came to know how Harry saved Tommy, they took him to their mansion. Mr. Merton was impressed with Harry’s conversation, character and attitude. He came to know about Mr. Barlow and decided to entrust his son Tommy to his charge. Mrs. Merton, however, developed a secret prejudice against Harry because of his rustic background. Mr. Barlow corrected her by observing “the real secret of all superiority, even of manners, must be placed in the mind; dignified sentiments, superior courage, accompanied with genuine universal courtesy, are necessary to constitute the real gentleman; and when these are wanting, it is the greatest absurdity to think that they can be supplied by affected tone or voice, or extravagant and unnatural modes of dress”.

The rest of the story describes how Tommy is transformed under the influence and instruction of Mr. Barlow, besides the example of Harry. The main story is interspersed with narratives underlining moral lessons and accounts of people in different parts of the world and their way of life. The purpose of these long (rather tedious) stories and accounts is to widen the general knowledge of the two boys, form their character and broaden their outlook.

As the story develops, Tommy’s character suffers a temporary setback. Back home on a holiday, he is allured by the sophisticated lifestyle that he sees around himself and falls into evil ways. He treats Harry with contempt and rudeness. But Harry bears the mortification with composure. With Mr. Barlow’s wise counsel, Tommy recovers his balance and good sense. Throughout the story, Harry is presented as an ideal character, as a pattern of excellence with qualities like patience, sympathy, courtesy, courage, generosity, truthfulness etc. Being a role model, his behaviour serves as an object lesson to Tommy whenever he comes guilty of lapses in conduct. As a children’s book, Sandford and Merton lays emphasis on the cultivation of the mind and heart. When finally Tommy and Harry part ways, Tommy tells his friend, “To your example, I owe most of the little good that I can boast. You have taught me how much better it is to be useful than rich or fine; how much more amiable to be good than to be great”.

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