Me and Guru were lazing our time on a rainy Tuesday evening, when Archana suddenly gleaned with joy. I guessed she must have gone through a give-away post on the school marketplace. My son’s school has an active marketplace, where you can buy, sell or donate used items. The culture stems from the ever increasing popularity of loppemarked or flea markets in Copenhagen which attracts an ever increasing audience every year and encourages a culture of sustainable consumption.

“Guru, lets go today to Copenhagen central, Simone’s mother is selling a bunch of books, as it seems that they are shifting from Denmark to Ghana “ During the summer months of June & July, many families in Copenhagen relocate or carry out a quasi death-cleaning to clear out the clutter from their homes and that is the period when the neighbourhood flea markets and school marketplaces comes alive. Guru’s cycle, my cycle and Archana’s cycle which we use for school drop and pick up were sourced second-hand.

So Guru knew the drill. As it was a rainy day, he protested , but he knew that in a debate with his mother, the cake ultimately goes to his mother. So he had to finally accompany her to his schoolmate’s house. In fact, it was not a house, it was a houseboat. There are few families in Copenhagen who choose to live in houseboats and I guess it stems from their streak of adventure and curiosity. A tourist stay on a houseboat and a permanent stay on a houseboat are poles apart.

Buying old books is an experience, as sometimes you get hold of some treasures , which you never were seeking for. And it happened on that rainy day on June 30, 2020. It is a familiar drill, both families exchange notes, introduce family members, talk about interesting books and finally negotiate prices and add some give away books on top of it to sweeten the deal. Simone’s mother took a liking to Guru and offered him a Modern Classic Book – Charlotte’s Web.

Guru frowned, twitched his lips and grudgingly accepted the book. Archana was happy with the deal and overall experience and both of them returned back home. When Guru reached home, he declared that he didn’t want to read Charlotte’s Web.

“ You have to read the book “ came the retort from Archana. Simone’s mom has specifically mentioned that this book is a classic and her kids loved it.

“But Amma, Greg Heffley didnt like it !!! “

Now Greg Heffley was Guru’s inspiration. It was in May 2020 , when i first heard of Charlotte’s web , which was introduced as a real life book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid : Dog Days and Diary of a Wimpy Kid : Getaway. For all, who follow Greg Heffley and his hilarious antics, his mother Susan Heffley introduces the book to Greg, who is not very impressed with the story. As per Greg, Charlotte’s Web would have been a short story, as he would have killed Charlotte , as he does not like spiders. Now my eight year son is an adherent fan of Greg and post that, he had a simple goal that he would never read Charlotte’s Web.

But that had to change. As part of Guru’s school coursework, his class teacher picked up Charlotte web for the Read Aloud Session and Guru was forced to read  the book and the baton fell on me for bed-time reading sessions. In my primary school years during the eighties, my worldview of reading was only limited to Tinkle, Shikari Shambu, Supandi, Tenali Raman, Chandamama , Champak, Secret Seven, Famous Five and was ignorant of this classic novel , though it was published in 1952.

As I read out Charlotte’s Web authored by E. B. White to Guru, I was astounded by the life lessons, which is relevant even for grown-ups. Guru is an animal lover and he quickly warmed up to the animals characterized in the novel.

In summary, Charlotte’s Web is a story of friendship and compassion, wherein a pig runt named Wilbur , who is saved by a little girl – Fern, develops a lasting friendship with Charlotte the spider, who saves Wilbur from being slaughtered as a christmas dinner.

Life Lessons from Charlotte’s Web :

1) Be Kind

Charlotte’s web is Kindness personified !!!. Wilbur as a runt was saved by Fern the little girl due to an act of Kindness and compassion. Fern fought against her dad to save Wilbur from getting slaughtered and ultimately her dad had to acquiesce. Moving forward, it was compassion and kindness , which impelled Charlotte the spider to save Wilbur.

“I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

2) Never be Judgmental

During our day to day lives, we tend to be judgmental about the outward appearances of other people and tend to draw our inferences. In the book, Charlotte also undergoes the same predicament, where she is initially perceived as a blood curling monster, but her true beauty and character is uncovered due to her unflinching friendship with Wilbur. Sometimes we need to know the other person and discover the inner character and not get swayed by outward appearances.

“In good time he was to discover that he was mistaken about Charlotte. Underneath her rather bold and cruel exterior, she had a kind heart, and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end.”

― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

3. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life

As I read out aloud Wilbur’s schedule for the day, me and Guru were amused at the simplicity of the schedule and how we can enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Post Covid, life has become an endless series of never ending conference calls for some individuals like me which starts early in the morning and continues till late evening and we are bereft of a simple pleasure like having a lunch or dinner with family.

“Breakfast at six-thirty. Skim milk, crusts, middlings, bits of doughnuts, wheat cakes with drops of maple syrup sticking to them, potato skins, leftover custard pudding with raisins, and bits of Shredded Wheat.

Breakfast would be finished at seven.

From seven to eight, Wilbur planned to have a talk with Templeton, the rat that lived under his trough. Talking with Templeton was not the most interesting occupation in the world but it was better than nothing.

From eight to nine, Wilbur planned to take a nap outdoors in the sun.

From nine to eleven he planned to dig a hole, or trench, and possibly find something good to eat buried in the dirt.

From eleven to twelve he planned to stand still and watch flies on the boards, watch bees in the clover, and watch swallows in the air.

Twelve o’clock – lunchtime. Middlings, warm water, apple parings, meat gravy, carrot scrapings, meat scraps, stale hominy, and the wrapper off a package of cheese. Lunch would be over at one.

From one to two, Wilbur planned to sleep.

From two to three, he planned to scratch itchy places by rubbing against the fence.

From three to four, he planned to stand perfectly still and think of what it was like to be alive, and to wait for Fern.

At four would come supper. Skim milk, provender, leftover sandwich from Lurvy’s lunchbox, prune skins, a morsel of this, a bit of that, fried potatoes, marmalade drippings, a little more of this, a little more of hat, a piece of baked apple, a scrap of upsidedown cake”.

― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

4. Friendship

I am terrible at keeping in touch and more terrible in doing small talk, but it dawned to me that in the age of relentless push of 24 X 7 social media and connectivity, sometimes all you need is one single friend on whom you can bank on. Wilbur had a deep friendship with Charlotte, which saved his life.

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing”.

“She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

5. Stay well, Keep Fit

E. B. White has a way of slipping in the most important truths in ordinary stuff and thats the reason , Charlotte’ Web is an extraordinary story. It is an extraordinary timeless tale of wisdom narrated in an ordinary and simple manner. During my Read Aloud, I was reminded of Swamiji’s note on Mindful Eating and “Mind Full to Mindful”

“And when your stomach is empty and your mind is full, it’s always hard to sleep”

“you must try to build yourself up. I want you to get plenty of sleep, and stop worrying. Never hurry and never worry! Chew your food thoroughly and eat every bit of it, except you must leave just enough for Templeton. Gain weight and stay well—that’s the way you can help. Keep fit, and don’t lose your nerve. Do you think you understand?”

― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Yes, I understand, E. B. White, Thank you for your enchanting prose, Thank you for your eloquence, Thank you for your  extraordinary timeless wisdom on Kindness, Friendship,  Hope & Humbleness !!!!

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Hari Nair

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