“Vejay , its not I did not saw, its I did not see.” Srividhya corrected quickly, innocently.  I has missed collecting the ball and had uttered “I did not saw”. Bad grammar. It was seven of us kids playing Laagori on the street. Being pointed out like this, loud enough and in the middle of the game, I was upset. In fact more than upset, my  Male ego was hurt. How could a girl of 7th standard point out to me a guy of 9th standard?  

My father had to relocate from Bhopal to Bangalore. It was 1989.  In those days, It was a simple uncomplicated life. We as kids went to school on a bicycle and father to his shop and mother took care of the house. After school it was a ride back home at 4 pm.  soon it was playtime of the neighbourhood kids on the  street, followed by some homework, then TV for sometime. DD was the channel along with dinner and then back to study until eyelids didn’t drop down for a good night sleep. In those days, kids could cycle alone without any security issues. At that time there was no smart phone, it was a fixed line phone with mere 5~6 digits number. Forget Google or YouTube, Internet was a luxury. If someone had it, it was still on a dial-up. ( a yahoo home page took a minute to load on a dial-up). So the only mode of learning anything was books and your teachers. If you had a good teacher, one would learn, otherwise it was always about marks, exams, next standard and filled with a loads of mischief, play and punishments in between. Father’s cane was discipline personified! Freedom and fear were in equal abundance. While I had almost always scored good marks in English exams, my grammar and vocabulary was bad and spoken English was worst.  Getting marks was about mugging and vomiting on the answer sheet. Marks were not the means, they were the end all.

Shifting to South India English was prevalent, Hindi was not. it was an exact reverse of North India in 1990. When it came to spoken English, all you needed in North was good morning, good afternoon, yes, no, thank you, my name is…. And then it’s Hindi all the way. No wonder my spoken English was bad. English grammar was about mugging and reproducing from Wren and Martin for the sake of marks, exams. In reality, beyond simple present, simple past and future tense nothing made sense to me. Grammar was horror and Wren and Martin was Godzilla!! 

Ego when pricked can really hurt and Srividya had pricked mine really hard,  publicly and that too while playing sports which i loved. I considered her lesser mortal, just because I could beat her at sports every time. That was my mindset, a kid in 9th standard of 1990. Upset with comment I left the game halfway went back home furious. The more I thought about it felt bad and finally when I settle down I knew only one thing that I had to improve English. Charged with adrenaline rush, I decided to tame Godzilla, picked up Wren and Martin and after I ruffled a few feathers, turned few pages, I knew that it was not for me. I dropped the book never  to pick it up again and I haven’t till date. My opinion was and is even today that this book is  to be read by those who have English as their mother tongue or by those who have already understood grammar. Yep ! 😏

Ok, now what about English? 

Book is not for me so I decided to seek my teacher’s guidance. Next day at school I ran up to her after the English period got over and asked if I can talk to her. She has me to follow her to the staff room and for the first time I looked into the staff room in spite of having passed the same corridor so many times this room was invisible to my eye. Just like my English knowledge on the periphery but far away from my grasp. I waited for her to settle down meanwhile the dim light in the room was reflecting my damp spirits. But the fire of punctured ego didn’t let it have much effect on me. as she sat into her chair and looked up, I shot the question. “Mam, I want to learn English, spoken English, my grammar is bad and know very little words.” 

” It’s not little words,  its few words. “ Her round eyes had become even more wider and was staring into my being and here I was trying to figure out my little and few had any difference in that statement. that how good was my vocabulary. The word vocabulary was still not in my dictionary. And here I was looking at my teacher expecting her to tell me the secret magic words which would give me mastery over English by the time I move from Star from to the classroom. I was expecting a Harry Potter moment to unfold. 

“OK then, for grammar read Wren and Maaarrrr….. ” No, No, No, Not that Godzilla again, my mind was screaming even before she could finish.

For the first time ever, i interrupted a teacher  even before she could finish and spoke my heart out. 

“Wren and Martin, su@#$. I am sorry but it’s very hard, I can’t, anything else man. Now I was pleading. 

She was shocked that I was using the slang. No Kendriya Vidyalaya student could utter such slang in front of a teacher, not even in dreams. unlike today, It was 1990 world. And and there I was mindlessly looking at her not knowing what I had uttered. Till  date I have no idea how I knew the word and where to use it. That was for sure Harry Potter moment just that I was oblivious of it then. after the initial shock she laughed out loud. I guess she connected to the intent and  intensity of the purpose.  I thank god for that otherwise I would have become a bad student for the rest of the term. 

” Well then read English newspaper. Do you get English paper at home?” 

English news paper write Hindi speaking family’s home? Uhh! I thought but quickly responded , “No, but I can get it.”

She understood,  paused, then asked ” Do you watch TV ?”  Now what’s TV got to do with English, Aaah , this is the secret she is about to tell me and then I will know English. Expectation of Harry potter moment rose once again.

“Yes man!!” the most confident response in English had ever given to anyone thus far. I was all ears for the magic.

“The most Hindi news at 9:00 p.m. and watch its English translation at 10 p.m. it’s an exact translation it would help you understand English and also their vocabulary.”

How? I am not sure if I was a loud enough for her to hear but for sure it was not the magic potion I was hoping for. 

“you can also take a book out of the library read it and keep a dictionary next you will look up for the words you don’t understand.” she added. I jolted myself out of my mind and gave my ears to work to listen , not to miss out on the secret. 

“Well, that’s all try to see in the next class.” she smiled and rushed for her next lecture. 

” Thanks” I turned to go to my class.  Had I missed the magic moment? I tried remembering everything that she had said. As  I soaked her advice, the judgement ceased, expectation of magic died. I took a U turn to the library to pick the book.As i went through the bookshelf of serious literature I I could feel the burden of reading them and that too in English. Painful!! Then my ice fell on the section where novels were kept. I like Stories and story books. The fun of reading thriller lighten the burden of reading it in English, I thought. I had a khatta meetha feeling about it. Not knowing anything about English fiction, English authors and English characters I, a boy, Hindi speaking, sports loving guy picked up Nancy Drew. Hope you get the drift and don’t laugh. I did not know anything then and i guess that was the life plan for my boyish male ego!!

On the way back home i picked up Oxford dictionary and while having dinner I was watching Hindi news on DD channel.  I made it a point to remember the statements made in Hindi and relate them to to the English news an hour later.  It went something like this. 

Day 1: 

” aaj videsh yatra se lutne ke baad Pradhan mantri ne mantri dal ko smbiodhit kare hue kaha….. “

” after returning from foreign vist, Pm addressed the cabinet and said…. ” The English Version. 

Day 2:

भारत SAARC देशों का सबसे प्रमुख सदस्य रहा है ।

India has been the most prominent member of SAARC countries

Day 3:

खाद्य पदार्थों का निर्यात भारत के लिए वरदान रहा है परंतु गिरती हुई अंतरराष्ट्रीय कीमतों के कारण…

Export of food items has been a boon for India but due to falling international prices..

Day 4: 

हम एक द्विपक्षीय प्रस्ताव के लिए पाकिस्तान को समझाने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं ।

we have been trying to convince Pakistan to hold dialogue for a bilateral resolution. 

It went on and on everyday, day after day.  I began learning where they use has and have,  had been and has been. It was no more about the classification of tenses but how they related to  in hindi, the language of my thoughts. Throughout the day at school during conversations, I would immerse my mind into what would that be in English. Sometimes i knew and sometimes I didn’t. As I figured the Hindi- English news pattern, learning went on, English improved. At night i would read Nancy drew. I religiously  kept a English dictionary next to me to know the meaning of any word I got stuck with. I still remember the very first word i looked into the dictionary was “conflict “, . That’s how good was my vocabulary. It took me 4 month to finish the 300 page novel.  By this time grammar had improved and sometime it became almost instinctive to know which tense to use, at other times, it was a conscious application.  even today i may fail if some asked me examples of Past perfect and Past Perfect Continuous but i wouldn’t fail at the correct use of  has been and have been.

Life teaches where books fail and book teach when when we fail at life!! It was about focusing on one thing, Then , I focused on English whether it was talking or eating, reading or cycling, buying or other chores. All i cared was to how all of that would be spoken of in English.

Four months has passed like this. I was at the house street and we were playing. I don’t remember why but Kalpana didi, my neighbour got into some causal dialogue about the game, at the end of which she said,  “Vejay, you speak Good English”. The look in her eyes was of appreciation. My eyes lit up with joy, I smiled, rushed up to the third floor flat of ours , closed the dictionary and kept it on the shelf, and shoved Nancy Drew novel in the bag to return to the library. Kalpana didi was SriVidhya’s Elder sister. and SriVidya was at the at the gate listening to the compliment. And this was the family of my would be principal at the college! Mission accomplished. Thank you So Much dear SriVidhya  but please don’t pull out another stunt like that. Compassion  and gratitude has diminishes the ego, but its still a mini Godzilla. 

Wow Life, every time you throw something murky at  us,

we would come out shinning. 

For you would have, without our knowing,

arranged for somethings like books,

someone, a Teacher like Om Swami 

to ask questions, to get answers,

to figure out the path, to find our guru inside us.

At the end we can proudly claim the glorious ownership.

When you shatter ego, you build capability, 

Leading to accomplishment with humility.

When you shower confusion, you makes us ask question, 

With a right question comes clarity.

When you show a  grinding path, a gruelling period

leading to accomplishment , making of a genius in us. 

Why Life? Why do you use Left to shine the Right in us. 

Why do you have to push low before a high fly 

But anyway, Thank you for all the struggles I have 

and the ones I had, I get better,

as i begin to try, whatever, however, true and aware, 

a guru within or out, strengthens us now or later !!

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