Margie’s grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.Issac Asimov, The Fun They Had, 1.12.1951
1. As I was narrating this story to my student Sumit- it occurred to me that this sentence, in the very first paragraph, was unusually long for a children’s story.
2. Was it written for children or for adults as a fiction was my first doubt.
3. The quoted sentence is in the reported speech format. I recalled how I used to wonder if narration portion of English grammar which was practiced in the standards eighth and ninth of our school curriculum of English really mattered all that much. After all: you’re supposed to tell your story. What difference does it make if narration uses the first person or third person for the subject?
5. It’s difficult to convey meaning of sentences for students like Sumit who never had good help with English which is a second language for them. Despite being a standard ninth student his reading and writing abilities place him somewhere at standard fourth or fifth of academic achievement. Consider narrating this sentence to such students. They seem inextricably elaborate and complex.
6. For Sumit:
6.1: Margie’s great grandfather told her grandfather about a time when all stories were printed on paper.
6.2: It was in his boyhood.
7. It’s obvious that narration loses all imagination with cut-and-dry approach of explanation used in 6.1 and 6.2.
8. It’s where you need to understand that this story was originally penned to be published in a children’s newspaper in the United States of America.
9. Now look at the layers of narration subjects within this one sentence:
Sumit being the listener of this story hears his teacher. Issac Asimov tells it to his teacher that Margie was listening to her grandfather who was listening to his grandfather.
10. There are seven subjects already involved in the elaborate scheme of things as you read this. Otherwise there are only two or only one: you!
11. In mythology of Bhagvata Purana there are many such exercises for imagination with multiple layers of narration and storytellers accompanying listeners. I didn’t appreciate it fully until I watched some movies like Rashomon/Inception/Suraj Ka Saatvaan Ghoda etc.
12. Asimov is credited with the invention of robots and compact disc in his stories much before the technology arrived on scene. It so happened that when I first taught this lesson to a CBSE student in 2020 it was during Covid lockdown. She had to attend classes online. It was almost the future author imagined in his fantasy in 2157 AD.
13. I stressed on how 2157 was exactly 300 years after mutiny of 1857 against British empire in Bundelkhand in India. After about a century republic of India was established with constitution elected assembly in operation for making law and executing it. Two centuries after that(actually 200 years after Asimov published this story : he imagined appearance of fully computerized education system.)
14. As with simulation hypothesis arguments related to AI and emerging threat to humanity similar to depicted in the 1990s movie Matrix: it’s true that in many ways the third decade of this century proved that Asimov placed such technological advancements much far ahead in time in his imagination than they actually happened. I think he would have been surprised by it if he was alive.
15. Asimov was founder of MENSA: a non profit organization which promoted education for highly gifted. Asimov himself reportedly had an intelligence quotient in the excess of 200.