My Journey With English

Posted by

English has a prevalent dominance on Indian society, as I have observed, and that becomes sometimes irritating in backward and semi-urban towns. In one of such towns- fortunately or unfortunately- I was born, grown up, brought up, studied, struggled (I struggled out of the town also) for making ends meet, and got a job also there. I am still not very confident about my English, I do a lot of mistakes and I try not to repeat them. I try to read a lot, write a lot… and now, you must be thinking that I will say the next- I try to speak a lot. Obviously, NO. Because it’s hard to find a sensible and calm person who is willing to talk to you, if someone knows a little bit of English in a small town and if somehow he finds a person or student who is very keen of learning, then he will surely brag his knowledge (that should be called SHIT) before him.

There was no English medium school in my vicinity when I was a kid. I had always been a Hindi medium student, that’s our mother tongue and I’m not ashamed of it, but the very mother tongue is very neglected at every level in its own country. It may be because it comes to us naturally, while the same is not true with English.

When I was in 8th standard, someone opened a school and named it, “Excellent Public School” with an English medium tag without any affiliation from the Central Board. He made huge money. The people of my town just went crazy after that. They thought, they think even today, that English is the yardstick of intelligence, like if he can speak English he must be intelligent. It was also a sort of status symbol and matter of gossip of the small-towns in 90s India.

So I never went to an English speaking teacher or class. Hindi speaking teachers taught me English in Hindi. Yes, I am taught English in Hindi. It’s psychologically and technically weird, but it is true. Father used to teach me and he took great care of English and Maths, but he never said that English is the yardstick of intelligence… his favorite was Maths.

Except father, my first English teacher or it should be called more appropriately Teaser, was a milkman. He was an ex-bus conductor. The department dismissed him from the job on the charges of misappropriation, so he started selling water after mixing some milk in it. People bought his milk because he used to come early in the morning when other milkmen were still sleeping or preparing to set out. He was a 12th standard pass out and he knew a little bit of English. An uncle of mine who was a Revenue Inspector, though he loved me, but he wasn’t less than a teaser, introduced me to that milkman. We didn’t take milk from him because we had a cow then, but he sold milk in the neighborhood. One day, my uncle said to the milkman,

“This kid is really good in studies, ask him any question.”

So, he put me a questionnaire like,

“What is your name? What is your father’s name? Where do you live? Blah, blah…all the basic introductory questions.”

Neither he was fluent nor I, let’s say I was just trying hard, but somehow we made it out. After that day, it became his routine, whenever he saw me, he started the same questions. He used to give me some of his old school knowledge also.

However, it somewhat benefited me that by his teasing I became well versed in giving a simple introduction in English. Later, I realized that he was dumb. He couldn’t get ahead of introduction. My knowledge was increasing as I was a kid and studying while he was in a stagnant phase by any prospect of education.

So, one day I asked,

“Why do you ask me the same questions every time? Ask me more.”

He said, “Ok, I will”, but after that he never confronted me with his elementary English.

Father taught me English and Maths and other subjects also, but he was not an English speaker, so grammar was somewhat good, but fluency and pronunciation while speaking was really bad. To be honest, we rarely talked in English. Though, we studied that. ‘We’ means here me and my friends. Speaking in English was always something exotic for us till 12th standard. Because no one introduced us or taught that art. Teachings were just exam oriented where we had to just read and write, not to speak much. But, luckily, I always got somebody who taught me a thing or two.

*                      *                        *                             *

After junior classes, a lot of neighborhood friends went to the newly opened English medium school. And they never left a chance to boast of that before me. However, they, too, weren’t very good, they were frigging crammers. One day, I challenged them in a Comprehension. They couldn’t  comprehend and felt humiliated.

It was not their mistake. Ninety-nine percent English medium schools in sub-urban and rural India really don’t care about the language efficiency. They make the children crammers. Children can read English, but they can’t explain the meaning of that.

So, my English-medium chums got angry on me. Let me tell you a funny thing – in India, people boast of their hot-shot relatives much more than they themselves are. You can estimate the power and influence of a person by the numbers of his big shot relatives. Such a person always threatens others on behalf of his relatives.  So, one of my friends said,

“You think you know much? My cousin lives in Mumbai and he works in a call center, he is very fluent in English. He will come in June, I will introduce you to him then. Ready?? Let’s see how do you fare.”

“Okay. I’m ready.”

Though I had given the consent to meet his cousin, but I myself was scared thinking how would I face him if he became too fluent to grasp. Well, the encounter was going to happen after 4-5 months, so I had pretty good time to prepare.

Do you want to learn an amazing fact? Here it is – you can learn how to speak in English with a 10 ₹ book in India. Imagine, such is the fascination on which the business of pulp-books (Garbage) prospers.

It was in 2003, I think, and I had just passed out the eighth standard. I had to buy a book that could teach me how to speak in English. I managed the sum from my pocket money and bought the ten-rupee-book and read that, on the very day, within an hour. It made me angry. It was a goddamn waste of money. Well, more than the loss of 10₹, I was angry on the fact that the book treated me as illiterate. First it taught me Alphabet, then the shortest words of two letters, three letters then good morning, good evening type greetings, and I felt like what a ‘Chutzpah’ it was to hope to learn English speaking from such a book.  I thought if I work a bit harder, I can write a better book to be sold in 10₹.

I got that this 10₹ study material isn’t going to help me and I researched more on the bookshops (there were only two in my town, and they sold mostly text-books) and came to know that there’s a book named ‘Rapidex English Speaking Course’ and that was priced about 100 or 150₹ . I really can’t remember now the exact price. This was much more than my affordability. I figured out who could give me that sum without investigating where I was going to spend. And that person was my Nani (my maternal grand-mother). She loved me. An unconditional love! Her home was not far away. So, after the unforgettable adventure with the 10₹ worth garbage, I went to her and said that I wanted 150₹. I had to make an excuse, because I couldn’t say that I needed this for a book as I had all the necessary text-books, so I said that I wanted to buy a video-game toy that was in fashion at that time. Surprisingly, she gave me the money for that.

This book was better than the first one. Though, this, too, started with Alphabet but it had a lot of chapters as how to talk on various topics, like how to ask someone about the time, how to talk on weather, how to greet elders, how to talk with the younger and so many other topics that, I think now, were well suited for an eighth standard Hindi medium student. I prepared thoroughly from that book. And I was happy – childhood has its own way to be happy in little things- but I forgot that I was going to talk to a person who was living in Mumbai and used to speak only in English during his work-hours.

Failures make a man stronger. You can take it as a universal truth, if you have a will-power to excel.

In the last week of June, the awaited day of my friend’s reprisal came, and he informed me in the evening that his cousin had arrived and said to come after breakfast on the following day. The meeting was held at his medical store. His father owned one.

So, the next day after drinking a large glass of milk, I went to meet his cousin who was going to chat with me in English. For me (I laugh at that meeting seldom) it was like I was going to have a duel with a wrestler whom I had to defeat. I came to his shop and saw that he and his cousin, a young man in his early 20s were there, they looked at me with a devious smile. As I approached them, my friend stood up and said,

“Meet Mr. Ravi. Mr. Ravi, he is my cousin from Bombay, Mr. Zafar Rabbani.”

Well, I am grown up among Muslim friends but there were no Rabbanis among them, they were like Ahmads, Mohammads, Khans, Quraishis, Rayinees, Siddiquis etc, no Rabbanis-Khabbanis at all. I wondered if he were his cousin, he must be a Khan, why to have a surname like Rabbani that I never heard and that if I pronounce that in my Indian accent it would seem like a cocky villain’s name. But there was no time to waste. We shook hands.

Mr. Rabbani- Hi Ravi, pleasure to meet you, how’s you?

And I began thinking that why he said, “how’s you”, it should be, “how are you?.” Then I thought it might be correct. I was really not much aware of colloquialism. All this contemplation went through my mind within a second.

Me- I am also pleased to meet you, sir. I am fine.

I was giving stress on every word. I was cautious.

Mr. Rabbani- So tell me something ’bout you?

And I just prepared myself. It was my chance.

Me- My name is Ravi. I live in this town. I am a student. I like to play cricket and I love singing. And now you tell me something about yourself.

Mr. Rabbani- O man, I just fuck around in Bombay, sometimes in a call center as customer support executive, you know, sometimes as a concierge in a hotel, sometimes I do nothing at all, just loitering here ‘nd there in search of a goddamn job.

He spoke in such fluency, my mind just got blanked out, I couldn’t comprehend then what to say or ask. I was aware of the word ‘Fuck’ by then, but only in its primary meaning. I really didn’t know about its various phrases and usages. The words like ‘ Concierge’, ‘Goddamn’, ‘Loitering’, they all were new for me. I didn’t get the whole sense of what he had said. I just get the little sense from his first sentence and I fumbled –

Me- you, you, you…you fuck in Bombay!!

I don’t know how, but I stressed the syllable of the F word unknowingly and it expressed my surprise and embarrassment both. I really fumbled. I saw my friend, he was laughing. I was sure that he was not getting anything from the conversation, but my embarrassment was his pleasure.

Mr. Rabbani- No, I don’t, Bombay fucks, life’s a bitch there.”

OMG! It blanked me out fully. I really couldn’t comprehend what was the meaning of that sentence, though I knew the meaning of every word separately. Pity! The embarrassment was much clearer now on my face. It took me approx thirty seconds to speak again. I forgot everything that I had rehearsed to ask, like how’s the weather in Mumbai, what are the different places to visit, had he met any actor or actress etc, I forgot every damn thing. They both laughed. I just said-

“Okay.”

I wanted to leave that place as soon as I could, but I don’t know what glued me to the chair. I was just 11 then, and by then, it was the most embarrassing moment of my life. I said,

“I’m getting late. I am going now. It was nice to have a chat.”

But Mr. Rabbani was in no mood to leave, and I was adamant, I got up from the chair and started to walk out, just then Mr. Rabbani said,

“Hey man, wait. You said you love singing. Sing a song for me, dude.”

I never disappoint if someone comes and requests me to sing a song, but that day I just couldn’t. I said,

“No, I am getting late. I have to go.”

And I began to walk out, just then my friend, who was smiling a while ago, got up and said,

“Hey Ravi, buddy, stay a little longer. I am going to order tea.”

Though, I was going out, but when he said that, I turned, and said,

“I don’t want to….fuck you!!”

In fact, I wanted to say, “I don’t want the tea.” However, we are friends even today.

*                  *                   *                    *

The embarrassment was nothing like that brought a change in my life or motivated me to push my boundaries. In fact, I forgot about that within a month in the fun and frolic of childhood.

As a student, till senior secondary classes, I had to study three languages: Hindi, English and Sanskrit (as supplementary). Besides these, there were heavier subjects like Maths, Physics, and Chemistry. Frankly, I focused on three subjects only, Maths, Physics and English. My Chemistry was weak, I somehow managed just the passing marks. I loved Physics and Maths. And English? Well, English was something, at that phase, a subject of entertainment. There were 5 books in the syllabus- Prose, Poetry, Short Story, Drama, and Grammar. All the first four made the first paper while the second paper was of Grammar only.

Let me tell you about the teaching style. At that time, my teachers would come in the class, take a poem or essay, would read that stanza by stanza or paragraph by paragraph and explain the meaning in Hindi, thence their duty is done.

I used to wonder how the hell I’m gonna explain that in English if the teachers themselves aren’t explaining. But then, the teachers used to give an excuse that all the students wouldn’t get if they explain in English, but my point was, at least try. But no, in fact, they weren’t much interested to teach in the college because they wanted all the students to take private tuition from them.

Well, I don’t mind this business thing, but I just hate incompetent teachers. This business motto was with all subjects except Hindi and Sanskrit as no one gave a damn about them, teachers would say that you will pass in Hindi, you just have to read the books of your syllabus. It was then I realized why my teachers used to say like that. Because there is no market of Hindi in India. You can earn good money by teaching English, but not Hindi.

Since the second paper was of Grammar only, so we practiced a lot of English Grammar. Except basics, there were Narration, Transformation, Syntax, Essay -Writing, Letter-Writing and Translation. So, the trick to pass in the second paper was to get command over Translation and Essay Writing. If you answer these two questions, you can get passing marks easily.

When I was in 11th standard, a new teacher came in the college. He told us that Translation is the key of learning any language. If you are good in translating easily and fast you can get command on that language. I know today that it is not correct at all. Well, all the students took it seriously, because only translation had the weightage of 15 marks. I was not much worried because my basics about Translation were already clear as my father used to teach already and made me to practice a lot on that. I want to increase my knowledge on English Literature.

That new teacher had a weird way of teaching. Whenever he came in the class, he would give us approx 10 sentences in Hindi to translate them into English and those sentence were way too weird like , “Ramu Ne Laat Mari aur Deevaar Bharbharakar Gir Gayi“, “Kalidas Ped Par Chadha Aur Daal Charcharakar Toot Gayi.” I often translated such weirdos correctly like “Ramu kicked and the wall collapsed down”, and “Kalidas climbed up the tree and the branch grided away”, but I made mistakes too. The only problem with him was that he rarely touched literature portion. I came to know from some boys that he taught literature in his coaching classes. And so, I had to join that.

*                           *                       *                           *

When I went to his coaching, he recognized me at once, and, as he knew that I was good in translation, he said, “I will give you a sentence in Hindi and if you translate that in English correctly, only then I will teach you.”

I guessed at once that there is something fishy, but I was standing in the mid of more than 100 students, boys and girls both, who were looking at me like I was some kind of gladiator in an amphitheatre.

I said, “Okay.”

And the teacher said, ” translate this sentence into English, Wo Gaya Gaya Aur Aise Gaya Ki Fir Na Laut Ke Aaya”

And I started, “He went and as went….”

He said, “No, this is wrong.”

And again I thought and thought but I couldn’t get any other idea to translate. I was in a fix. I thought for more than 15 minutes but couldn’t get through that.

The teacher again said, “Okay son, you have 24 hours. Think and translate it. Come tomorrow. I hope you will come with the right translation, and we will start then. You can go home now.”

I came home. I was puzzled and restless on a single sentence that I wasn’t able to translate into English. I had no computer and smart-phone then. My Google was my father only. So, I went to my Google, and showed him the sentence. He put his specs first and saw the sentence and gave me a stern look, and said,

“Shame on you! You can’t translate such an easy sentence.”

He started the same way as I had, but I stopped him,

“It’s wrong…I did the same way, but the teacher wasn’t agreed.”

Then he looked the sentence closely for a minute and smiled. And I got that it was solved. He said,

“In the first two Gayas, the first one is a place (Noun)  Gaya, and the second one is a verb.”

And it was solved. Gaya is a district in Bihar. And another Gaya means ‘went’.

It was, “He went Gaya and he went on such a way that he never came back.”

On the next day, I showed that to the teacher, and he confirmed that it was right. He was the first teacher who introduced me to the world of English literature. He taught me Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice, one or two poems of John Milton and John Keats also, and prose of Mougham and A.G. Gardiner. I have forgotten all this though, but the sentence that I was challenged is still in my memory.

*                    *                      *                     *

In Graduation, my main subject was English. You must be thinking why I chose literature while I loved Maths and Physics. Well, this is different story like a Shakespearean tragedy that I will write some other day, but Shakespeare became  my favorite in Graduation. I got the chance to read more literature in the duration of three  years.

I was doing Graduation in a nearby private college of my hometown. I would like to tell you that opening such colleges is the tool of changing black money into white for political mafias. The main aim is to generate money and along with that to earn a name by doing some good work for education. Because I couldn’t afford to go out of my district to study, so I had to satisfy myself with whatever was available there. The teachers were also private and their salary was meager, so they were also dependent on home tuitions and coachings.

On the first day of the college, the English professor gave us a lecture on Shakespeare and explained a sonnet that was in the syllabus, and afterwards said to the students to write an explanation of that with reference and context. Like all the others, I too explained that and went to show him. He made a big cut mark on my copy and said, “Worthless! You lack a lot even in basic knowledge. You need a coaching”

I was perplexed. I reread my explanation. It was not wonderful, I agreed, but it was good. He should have given me some tips for writing better instead of saying “Worthless!”

Later, I enquired and found that he, too, runs a coaching where he teaches at his best, while in the college, he persuades students to join his coaching. Another interesting fact about the coaching-center was that all the girls of my batch had joined that already. I soliloquized,

“Well Ravi, that won’t be too bad. At least you can see your crush everyday. Who knows what magic can happen there.”

Yes, there was a girl and I fell in love with her at first sight. For convenience, let’s assume that her name was Lily. I fell for Lily because she looked like a blonde- sparkling big-big eyes, colored hair, the sensuous lips that played a lovely smile which made the world around me beautiful. My sense of aestheticism, at that time, was limited to physical beauty. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

She wasn’t very good in studies. She, too, had taken History as the second subject, and she liked listening songs also, so in every way, there was available a win-win situation for me to get a girlfriend with some some knowledge of Literature.

I joined the coaching in the next month. What else could I do? I was helpless for the sake of love. But within a week I realized that my sir was also hitting on Lily. He was an ugly unmarried man, in his let 20s, with bulging tummy and steeped chest, and he had also strabismus (a squint eye). He made Lily sit on the very first row with other girls and after every two minutes he would come to her and ask,

“Got it?”, “Should I explain again?” or “Hope you understood?” by touching her hair, shoulders or by leaning before her. This made me angry. One day I said to him in Shakespearean style,

“Make me sit near thee, O gracious sir. I want to drink thy heavenly wisdom full.”

And he rebuked me,

“Thou cream-faced loon, where got’st that goose look? Dare not thou sit near me. This row I maketh for girls only.”

All the students laughed at me. I didn’t retaliate. I sat down on my place and said in my heart,

“My tongue will tell the anger of my heart one day.”

I tolerated him for the whole session. I won’t say he didn’t teach me anything, he taught at his best and I am grateful for that, but his partiality towards girls always vexed me. I told Lily about his perversion, but she said if she complained about him at home, her parents won’t let her come in the coaching. She was just helpless.

There weren’t more than 30 students in the coaching, and in those 30, there were seven or eight girls, and in these seven-eight girls if two or three didn’t come any day, he would cancel the class saying that number is insufficient today. This was the most treacherous among his other vexatious arts. Besides Sundays, there were two-three random days when we couldn’t study.

It was raining cats and dogs one day. I went to the coaching taking an umbrella in a hand and the books in other.  There were other boys and a nerdy girl in the same attire, they all had come to study. We sat in the classroom for more than an half hour waiting for him. He didn’t appear while his home was attached to the classroom. After forty minutes, he came and dismissed us saying that the students aren’t sufficient in numbers, so the class will be on tomorrow. It was a fucked up situation, I couldn’t keep calm that day and blurted out-

“ I’d love to abuse thee, but I’d infect my tongue. Methink’st thou art a general offence and every student should leave your class. Thou lump of foul deformity! I am leaving your class for eternity. ”

He was dumb-founded, shocked, kept seeing me with his squinted eyes, and couldn’t speak for a while. I rushed out for avoiding an inevitable brawl.

Now I had to study on my own, because there was no other teacher in the town who could teach graduation level English.

I left his coaching and never went to his class in the college even. A cold war started between me and my English teacher. He criticized me, I criticized him. Five other boys also left the coaching after me, though I never convinced them to do that. After that incident, college was the only place where I could meet Lily, but I couldn’t go there regularly as I myself had joined a school and where I was teaching high school Maths. My second-hand Nokia 1100 helped then, we used to talk on phone.

In the second year, I got a back-paper in English. I suspected that the English teacher must have done something with my copy. I again gave the exam and improved my marks.

I hardly went college in the final year to attend the classes, but I was in close contact with History teacher who was also the chief proctor of the college. I developed a great Guru-Chela relationship, besides, he liked me as a student. I told him all that happened and my fear about English professor that he might manipulate my copy while collecting and sealing. He told me that there is nothing like that you suspect, a teacher never tries to harm a student’s career. He also suggested that I should apologize for my mistake. Well, I didn’t apologize, but I requested the chief proctor to look into this matter. He assured me that he would not let him do any such thing.

I cleared the exam, got my degree, and one day went to my English sir, touched his feet (touching feet is a ritual of greeting to elders and teachers in India), and said,

“You’re the reason I relied on myself. Thank you, sir”

Well, I had great time with Lily. After graduation, she got married with a cleric. Yes, she was a Muslim. I enrolled myself in teachers’ training program. We aren’t in touch now. It was approx five years ago when I met her last time, she asked me,

“What are you doing nowadays?”

“Well, training is completed. I will get the job soon. What about you?”

“I got two kids.”

*                         *                      *                     *

It has been a trend since last decade in our country that no provincial (and sometimes the central) vacancy can be completed without going to High Court and after then, Supreme Court. Sometimes the government itself linger it to extend the appointment time till the elections, so that it can favor votes for its party. I mean, our leaders are far wiser than the leaders of any other country in generating votes. They cannot even leave job applicants beyond their political sickle.

So the job which I was supposed to get in 2014, I got that in 2016- a whole two years gap – because there were elections in 2017 and the ruling party leaders wanted a kind of piquancy in their speeches to allure the public, like “in my regime such number of jobs are given, such numbers of people are trained blah, blah.” Nothing is bereaved of politics in India.

Okay, let’s not talk politics, let’s talk about my journey with English. Ha-ha!

In the Teachers’ Training Institute (TTI), I got the chance to meet great persons. Lots of them had studied and worked in big cities. Some of them had really good knowledge of speaking English. I made friends with everyone, because no one in the world is so dull that he can’t like music. I hope you won’t take it as if I were bragging but it is true that I was known as a singer in the institute. But I used to sing only Hindi songs, I was not introduced yet to the English world of entertainment except books.

There I met Abhishek and Prem who were and still are the connoisseur of English songs and movies. It was in 2012, and by then I had watched only ‘Titanic’ and ‘You’ve Got a Mail’ , I think, and that too, dubbed in Hindi. So they both told me about many great Hollywood movies and suggested that English movies must be watched in English, only then you will get the real fun.

So, since then I watched a great number of English movies, listened endless songs. I learned the lyrics of a few songs and tried to sing that in the same accent and rhythm. Even today I remember the lyrics of ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ and ‘Rolling in The Deep’ sung by Adele, that were suggested by Abhishek. I never got any problem to get the real sense of songs because even then I used to read a lot, it just took me some time to get into the accent. The training period was really a fun and I miss that so much.

Now training period was done and we were jobless. Politics played very well, and now we had to fight legally and democratically against the government. Among us, Prem emerged as leader and the representative of the district, which I had never expected, but holy fuck, what a drastic change he brought in his personality when he decided to stand forefront. I still admire him for that. I and Abhishek also participated a few times in the demonstrations against Government in Lucknow (the state capital), but I particularly couldn’t keep it for a long time. I had to work, I had to earn, so I avoided going much in the protests and opened a coaching center in my hometown and started teaching English and Maths. Yes, I contributed money in the protest whenever Prem asked for.

The coaching center I opened didn’t generate much income, because there were already many pre-established coaching centers in the town, and among them one was of my great Sir whom I had to condemn because of his perversion, he always helped in my marketing and advertisement, but in a negative sense. Somehow I passed that year of 2015, and almost half of the 2016.

It was in February 2016 when I met Abhishek and told him that I needed a job in Lucknow or any city. He said he too wanted to go some other place to work. So it was decide then, and we both started searching jobs in Lucknow and in other adjacent cities. But everywhere they demanded a Post Graduate Degree in English and at least two years experience of teaching. I was doing my Post Graduation as a private student from a college and it was not completed yet. We didn’t lose hope though. One day, Abhishek told me that there is senior secondary school at the outskirts of Gorakhpur city, just at the entrance block of another adjacent district, and they have written no such conditions of academic qualification in their advertisement. They are ready to take fresh graduates for interview if the graduates have a command on speaking English, and if they can teach a class.

This is what I was looking for.

I asked Abhishek, “So what is the date of interview? Have you talked to them?”

“Yes, I talked. The interview is scheduled on 15th of May. Be prepared for that.”

“Hallelujah! I must accompany you.”

If I’m not overestimating myself, by then, I had started gathering confidence for my English speaking. I got enough chances to converse with a person who had spent considerable time in London. Someday I will write his story also. Besides, I had read a lot of books by then. I had read all the good books of the TTI’s library when I was a trainee there, even I donated to the library more than 150 books (lots of them were in Hindi though) of my own. So I was excited and somewhat confident in my conscience that I will get that job.

So, decided as it was, we planned our journey. We started in the evening of May 14th, 2016. The distance of the venue from my home was about 300 Kms and we had to cover it by changing the conveyance four times. I came Bahraich by bus and accompanied Abhishek on the journey. From Bahraich, we took train at 7 PM and arrived at Gonda Junction almost at 10 PM. All the way Abhishek was telling me about the various accents and intonation of English language. I admit, even today, he has good ears to recognize the different accents. I didn’t get much of it, I spoke in my own accent.

We took dinner and started waiting for the next train, Gwalior-Barauni Express. See, I still remember the name of the train because it is the worst train I ever happened to journeying with. Once, before this journey, I happened to visit Gwalior with my brother. We arrived at Charbagh Station of Lucknow before the fixed time, but then we came to know that the train is running 4-5 hours late. It was 10 AM and the train was supposed to arrive on 3 PM, so we decided to visit the zoo and museum in Lucknow and along with that we also took lunch. We spent 4-5 hours roaming like that and arrived at the station at 3PM, but the train was still late. It arrived at 4:30.

That night, on the Gonda Junction, it was the same situation. We waited, listened songs, talked about the girls and girlfriends, exams and jobs, politics and elections, movies and songs, and also about English. Somehow we passed the time. The train arrived at 2:30 AM. Our seats weren’t reserved. We had to travel in the general compartment. First we thought that we would enter in the reserved compartment and would seek the seat, and if the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) comes, we will manage then by bribing him. But this plan couldn’t be executed, because reserved compartments were far ahead from our waiting spot, and the stoppage time was just two minutes, so we entered the general compartment. It was a blunder!

If you have travelled in the general compartment of an Indian train, you should agree with me that it resembles Dante’s Inferno’s fourth circle- greed. Greed for sitting place! No one wants to leave his sitting place in a general compartment even if he is in a dire need of going to the toilet. Abhishek got a spot and I got a corner to stand against that. After an hour or more so, I exchanged the place; I sat down and he stood against the corner. We kept talking. Sleep was miles away from us. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but we talked about every topic that came in our minds- Geography, History, Economics, Politics, Sex, Kamasutra, Philosophy, Religion, Casteism, Cricket, Soccer, Books, Literature, Music and yes, also about English.

The train arrived at Gorakhpur Junction on 6:30 AM. We rushed to the bus-stop as we had to catch the bus before 7, and it was another journey of three hours by bus. First, we sipped the tea, and then freshened up. We were in full mood to take a bath, because eyes were heavy and clothes were dirty. But taking a bath wouldn’t allow us taking the bus at time. We quit the bath and caught the bus. The bus, too, was not very good but it gave us seats and we both tried to sleep for the whole time.

The bus stopped at Nichlaul, a town of Maharajganj district. We enquired and found that the school was at a few paces’ distance. We went there with our backpack and saw the school-building. Abhishek had already called to the principal that we had arrived and he was waiting for us.

We entered the campus. In my all life, I had never seen such a big school. It was damn spacious. On the left side of the entrance, there stood a three storey building, in the front of us we could see the principal’s office and the classes adjacent to it, on the right, there was another building which was still in the construction-process; in the middle, there was enough green space for a playground. It had also the hostel facility for boys and teachers.

As we had decided earlier, we first rushed to the bathroom to change the clothes, because they were really stinking now and if we had gone before the principal in the same clothes, we were sure to be told to get out. We changed our clothes, put some deodorant and walked out and went straight to the principal office.

The principal was a middle-aged Bengali. In India, Bengalis are considered well-educated. They have a keen interest in Literature, Arts and Music. Our first Noble Prize winner poet, Rabindranath Tagore, and; our first Noble Prize winner Economist, Amartya Sen, were from Bengal. West Bengal, if I say it correctly. But don’t get the wrong idea, the principal was a real bastard like the MD, that I came to know later.

No other applicant was there, we both were alone. Later, we got that the interview process will go on till June.

So, after a formal greeting and useless talk, he offered us biscuits and water. I drank water. I was damn thirsty.

He said, “Well, Mr. Ravi and Mr. Abhishek, the interview will be conducted after the Demo. First you have to teach the class and we will watch that, if that is satisfactory, only then we will do final talk. We are not hiring just degree holders, but we are looking for genuine teachers. I understand you both must be exhausted from such a long and tedious journey. If you don’t want to teach right now, I would advise to take rest and we can start from tomorrow.”

We saw each other and decided without speaking, just by the expressions, that we were ready to teach. I don’t know about Abhishek, but I was excited to teach in spite of being exhausted and sleepy. I just didn’t want to lose the momentum.

We agreed to teach.

I was sent in Class 10 (B) and Abhishek, in Class 11 (B). The classes were divided in Sections A and B. There were more than 100 students in each class was divided in two sections in accordance of their performance. Students of Section B were smarter than that of Section A.

I entered Class 10 (B) with a sense of dignity and solemnity. The class was full with adolescent boys and girls. The principal had told them already that they were going to be taught English by a new teacher today, so they guessed instantly that I was on the trial.

I introduced myself. I had decided that I would just speak today unstoppably in English, I would just enjoy these forty minutes. No matter what they bring to teach. In fact, I had no knowledge of their syllabus. I was a state board student and I had taught only state board students till then, I was not familiar with the Central Board’s syllabus.

I said, “What do you want me to teach today?  You are free to choose any chapter of your choice from your English book.”

Some boys who considered themselves smartest in the class whispered to each other and decided a chapter, and brought the book to me.

I saw the chapter and smiled. It was a poem.

I said in my heart, “You kids! You don’t know that a poet is going to teach you a poem today”

I had written many poems in English by then. I was familiar with this art. But there was a problem. The poem that I was presented to teach was totally unfamiliar to me, the poet was familiar though. It was a poem by Vikram Seth. The title was “The Frog and the Nightingale”. It was a quite long poem of 140 lines in the form of a fable. I had never read Vikram Seth, but I knew that he was the writer of “A Suitable Boy”, the world-famous book.

First I read the poem superficially. I got its theme and story-line. There were not many difficult words, so I found it easy. First I gave a brief description of the poet and then started to teach and explain it.

It was my first lecture in English and I myself was amazed how English was floating in the air. Appearing from my tongue. I was enjoying every moment of it. Although, I was damn exhausted and hungry earlier, but as soon as I started to teach, a sort of divine energy came upon me. The principal was watching and listening me standing outside of the class, the children were enjoying this, and I was in heaven. Now and then, some student raised hand and interrupted by a question, and I answered in the same flow. Nothing could stop me, I was flowing like a river eager to meet the ocean, breaking and surpassing all the hurdles coming in the way. I was enjoying it. Not just my tongue, every part of my body was teaching. It was a quite hilarious poem with some onomatopoeic expression. I roamed in the whole class while teaching, kept eye-contact with the students and just spoke full forty minutes even after ringing the bell. I finished the poem, explained its every line and its theme. It ended with a loud applause. The students clapped for me. Can you believe? They clapped for me! I was the happiest soul on the earth. It was one of the best moments of my life. Something that I can be proud of!

I came out of the class and the students followed. They gave me very positive feedback. I reported then to the principal, he said, “Now have your lunch and take rest. We will talk further in the evening.” After lunch I had to sleep in the room which was beside the room where construction work was going on, and it made very loud noise of iron-cutting, yet I remember that I slept the soundest sleep that day.

We lived there for three days and gave demo in every section of high-school and senior-secondary classes. Interview went good. We were told to join regularly after the summer vocation. Abhishek didn’t accept the proposal. He found the salary less than his expectation, but I accepted.

I lived and taught there for three months. Teaching there helped me to polish my speaking skill. But I had to quit, as I got my awaited government job. It was not attractive, but the salary was almost three times higher than my present job. I taught and sang there. The last day when I was to depart I sang in the class k“Itti si hansi, itti si hushi, itta sa tukda chand ka…”, a song of Hindi movie Barfi (2012). I left that school.

Now I teach small kids of village, mostly in Hindi medium, as their environment doesn’t allow me to converse in English. I’m sure they won’t get it. Now I mostly read and write myself in my spare time. I love English. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my mother tongue. I adore that, and I’m happy that I’m far better in Hindi than in English. I never wanted to learn English on the price of losing my mother tongue, but I wanted to learn it to read the greatest books ever written, to converse with different kind of people, to develop my own confidence. I love languages. I know a little bit of Urdu and Sanskrit also. And having the knowledge of all these, I feel richer. Nowadays English is not just a language, it is a tool to get through the various tasks in day-to-day life and that is what makes it more important. If I ever get a chance (of that I am not very optimistic though) to learn another language like Bangla, French, or Spanish I will try to learn. That’s all. Thank you.

-Ravi

 

 

 

Share This

4 comments

  1. As an American and English-only speaker, I enjoyed Ravi’s autobiography immensely becauseit helped me to know the real him better. I very much admire people who are multi-lingual and the drive it takes to become so. This story showed me the inherent drive of the Indian people to educate themselves and how much effort it takes. Ravi made his own opportunities every step of the way. I only wish he could have remained in the classroom where he explained poetry to receptive students and at the end got applauded by the students for doing what he loved. He said he was in heaven while he was teaching that class. One note about the professor who lined up the girls in the class in the front row, touched and admired them outwardly. In America he would have ended up out of a job for that type of behavior to minor girls and quite possibly have gone to jail for it. My favorite line in Ravi’s autobiography was that his father was his “Google” and he went to him with every question. What a compliment to his father and I hope his father realizes how muchhe is loved by his son. I also loved the story of his maternal grandmother giving him money for an expensive book though she thought at the time it was for a video game. The irony there being that little did Ravi probably realize at the time that she would have thought giving him money for book of learning a much better cause than a video game. My only criticism of Ravi’s autobiography is there are too many unnecessary swear words. They were jarring when I came upon them and I came upon them often. They did nothing to advance or enhance the story overall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *