Saturday, July 14, 2012

THE BOY WHO COULDN'T SPEAK ENGLISH



He had just moved from the dusty by lanes of Delhi to Mumbai, the city that never sleeps. It did sleep, he soon found out, well at least most of it did back then. His father had had a transfer. Delhi had been a good place to live in. There was the rickshaw that took him to school every day, the teachers who adored him, the canteen where he collected his He-man action figures(with a scented eraser within) and the group of friends who lived like there was no tomorrow. The previous statement may have been misleading about the boy's age. Our little champion had just celebrated his 7th birthday. Life was about to experience a change. Change is always good, he thought. And it turned out to be quite a life altering one.

Mumbai was different for different reasons. People were not as close knit as they were back in Delhi. No one took a keen interest in your life though that did not mean that people weren't friendly. That homely feeling that the boy had when he was at Delhi was missing. Mumbai seemed foreign for time being. Everyone was busy making a living. Life was fast and you had to keep up. But that was for the big boys. He was more interested in how life was under the radar. He made many friends in building he resided in. Cricket was still played on a daily basis, one thing that did not change from back in Delhi. The boy was beginning to settle in finally.

To shed light on one part of the boy's academic abilities- he was a good student who vehemently despised mathematics. He was good at written English but speaking it was still a daunting task. As Hindi was his choice of communication in Delhi, he had never spoken to anyone in English at length. Technologically too, the scene wasn't particularly good back then and the only English he learnt was the little he had learnt at school.

Soon, the boy stepped into a new school, made new friends and thus began a new chapter in his life. It was a day-school and the boy returned home in the evening. Coping in class was a difficult task for him. The teacher spoke in fluent English and the boy found it hard to comprehend everything. He was slow at grasping so much English at once. Result- he rarely took down notes and did not understand much of what was going on. Mathematics had never seemed more monstrous. The boy hated numbers, oh lord he did. He could not talk to anybody. It was an English medium school and talking in Hindi/Marathi was scoffed at by children.

Days went by and he discovered that 2 more like him in the classroom suffered from a similar problem. That of not being able to understand exactly what was going on due to poor English speaking and interpreting skills. Friendship was only natural as their struggle with English united them further. Enemy's enemy is an ally. The boy was like a Darsheel who had descended from "Taare Zameen Par" spending most of his time looking out of the window or the door, whichever he was closer to. Isolation had been accepted now.  That did not deter our 3 musketeers from talking. They talked in Hindi all day long. Classes went on and the boy finally lost interest in what was going on in the class. He was in a world of his own by now.

The unit tests were nearing and his mother stepped up to the occasion. She asked him what had been taught in class so far and he had absolutely no idea. "Nai malum mujhe", he uttered with extreme honesty. The curriculum was different from that in Delhi so he needed to work harder. His mother scrutinized his diary thoroughly to understand what had been done so far. She took up the challenge and taught him how much ever she could before the unit test. The boy memorized the answers without actually bothering too much about which question they belonged to. The unit tests arrived and the boy spread magic with his answers. He had forgotten which answer belonged to which question so he mixed answers at ease in every exam. Our little creative genius had outdone himself. Completely content with his exam paper, he always turned in the answer papers with a smile. Math exam was his undoing though. He did not smile that day. The numbers looked ominous and he did his best to solve what he could. He submitted the exam paper, albeit with a melancholy expression.

Exams were done. It was time to celebrate or was it? The teachers had evaluated the paper in only 2 days time and this called for a celebration of a totally different kind. The corrected answer sheets were distributed in class and the boy was aghast. He had done better than the other 2 musketeers though but mediocrity was not a choice he could settle for. He carefully hid the few papers he did not want to show to his mother into a notebook. He showed 2 papers to his mother and explained how he had messed up the question numbers in both the exams and secured less marks. The other papers were carefully hidden in a discreet location at home. A few days went by and a notification for a parent teacher meeting to discuss the ward's performance was sent home. Helpless, the boy showed all the answer sheets that very day to be scolded by both his parents alike for not showing them within time.

The day of the parent teachers' meeting arrived and he sat quietly in one corner of the car with neatly combed hair. Dressed for the kill. They reached the classroom and the first thing the teacher uttered after meeting his parents was "He's very shy. Very quiet. Doesn't interact with other children at all. There is no interaction with the teacher either. This will not help. Is he facing any difficulty with the language?". His father asked him rhetorically "You have a problem in speaking English?", knowing too well what the answer was. The boy kept listening to all that the teacher had to utter with red cheeks and red ears. No he wasn't blushing, it happened to him when he was embarrassed. He walked out of the class with his parents and his dad confronted him with all the anger. "English bolni nai ati kya thik se? Toh bola kyu nai mummy ko? Suna kya bola teacher ne? Agar English nai sikhi toh main is building se utha ke phek dunga agli baar" (The throwing from the building expression scared the hell out of the little boy. He knew, of course, that his dad would never do it but this wasn't the time to think). The boy simply nodded. They went home and this was the time the little boy seriously contemplated what he had to do to improve.

In the coming weeks, he showed amazing determination and learnt all that he could with the help of his mother. Speaking English fluently was still a concern but he was working on it. By the next Parent Teachers' meeting, he had shown fair progress leaving the teachers little to complain about.  Math scores were still abysmally low and this was something his father had learnt to live with. A few months down the line, the boy was now speaking in English, not so fluently though but he was getting there.

The boy never looked back since then. He went on to win essay writing competitions, wrote meaningful poetry, participated in public speaking and gave presentations. Ironically enough, he even gave a presentation on importance of English and Communications once, to his classmates. English was his nemesis and he did overcome it eventually. Surprisingly enough, the boy improved drastically at mathematics too and now enjoys the company of numbers. He never looked back ever since and the same boy is writing this article, smiling to himself at how much life has changed since then and thankful at the same time that he was never thrown down from that building. "Change is a good thing", he used to think and he still believes on the same lines :)

Peace