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Romance, right? You are a romantic at heart.
May be I am, may be not. But no, not writing about romance.
Excuse me while I pick up my jaw from the floor.
Did you break it? Good. Nothing would make me happier.
Whoa! This is quite unlike you.
Learning knew things about me, are you?
Right. And there’s a word for you that begins with R.
How does Rip Van Winkle strike you?
That guy who slept for twenty years?
Yes, the same.
I am all eyes to read what you have got to say.

*****

I don’t remember in which grade it was that I came across Rip Van Winkle, a short story by the American author Washington Irving. Perhaps it was in fifth or may be sixth grade we had a lesson based on it. The story remains fresh in my mind.

Rip Van Winkle walked up the mountains one day to escape doing yet another chore at home. That bit there about the chore, is my version. The story says he went away to escape the nagging of his wife and everyone knows what that means. The man clearly had chores to do which he had neglected in spite of constant reminders. So yeah, he takes the easy way out and wanders up the mountain with his musket and dog in tow.

On the way someone calls out his name. He turns to find a man dressed in clothes belonging to a time long gone and carrying a keg was the one who had hailed him. They walk together, and soon meet up with some of the strange man’s friends higher up the mountain. Rip Van Winkle is offered a drink from the keg which he accepts. That’s all he remembers. The next thing you know he wakes up to find some rather shocking changes in his person and surroundings. His musket is rusty. His dog is nowhere around. As for his beard, it has grown way too long, a foot at least.

He decides to walk to the village. He has no idea what’s going to hit him when he reaches there. People look at him strangely when he enters the village. He recognizes no one and no one recognizes him. Apparently there has been some sort of revolutionary war and people are talking excitedly of having voted. Rip Van Winkle has no idea what that is. At last an old woman recognizes him. Aren’t you Rip Van Winkle who has been missing for the past twenty years?

Twenty years! He has been asleep for twenty years? The old woman had been pretty young when he had last seen her. She tells him his wife is no more. Rip Van Winkle is not too sad about that. No more could she get after him for not doing some chore or other. Villagers gather around him to stare and marvel at a man who they have heard as missing. And to think he had been sleeping for twenty years up in the mountains all this while. One young woman pushes through the crowd around him, She has a baby on her hip. Father, she calls out, is it really you?

And that’s how it ends. The daughter takes Rip Van Winkle home with her to care for him. He spends the rest of the days sitting in the sun doing nothing.

In the subsequent years of doing this lesson, Rip Van Winkle became synonymous with waking up too late to facts. A fun way to remind or tease someone that they had forgotten things. We threw Rip Van Winkle at each other whenever someone or other failed to remember some incident, or remembered it too late. Believe me, I was at the receiving end most times, my head being in the clouds always. You can use it too, to tease your friends. But remember, it is fun as long as those you share with know who Rip Van Winkle was. If not, well…. it might not really work, and you could easily become persona non grata. Believe me, I should know.

© Shail Mohan 2020