“It is like a simple mathematical equation, as simple as two plus two equals five.” Dimple was in a jovial mood.
“Two plus two is not equal to five, it is unequal to five. Murali! You boast about being a mathematical genius and a simple addition fact you are unable to do?”
“Unable, right? Professor of English!” The taunt was intended.
“Sorry for the tongue of the slip. It beats me how people go ga ga over mathematics and English. One non- graspable and the other insolvable.” Saurabh butted in.
“Error, error, error…. How I wish there was auto-correct as we speak.” Dimple was in awe of the language.
“Ummm, then it would have been ghastly, imagine you are about to say something and this clinical fellow (autocorrect -cynical) pokes his nose and makes you butter (utter) an utterly foolish word, worse than the one you intended to say.” Murali was having fun.
The conversation would have continued till eternity but for the unexpected arrival of Manjula, the language expert (or so she thought) and hater of mathematics. Her sixth sense was pretty awesome (what about her five senses?), she could sniff and track the ‘campusanians’ who indulged in ‘brickbracking’ her favourite subject.
Seeing her approach, the trio turned upside down (some acrobats they must be) to avoid confrontation with the most irritable character on the campus.
“Hi fellas, so you are at it again. My expert comments on the topic – you are all zealous of me. I can smell it in your words even from a distance. Why all these buckets and brickbats about a language? Communication skills have touched frock-bottom….”
“Manjula, you are using ‘fowl’ language. Flirty mind.” Murali fell prey to autocorrect.
Dimple’s impish laughter annoyed her. Manjula was pompous and showy and her longing to be in the limelight often brought doom to her. Her craze for English made her do all kinds of antics, from googling (imagine, she is talking and googling for words and more often than not ending up using the most inappropriate one).
Her supercilious ways were made fun of, and her friends (the few she had) failed to groom her.
She was nicknamed the clown. Was she so dumb that she did not notice people around mocking her? Or was she unconcerned?
Whatever the reason Manjula took upon herself the responsibility of reintroducing the language and restoring its ‘peacock throne.’ Come what may, even at the risk of becoming a laughing stock she was hell-bent on accomplishing ‘mission impossible’.
Why was she so obsessed with English? A profound reason, in fact, a secret, and that too a family secret that kept perturbing generation after generation. Its distress was bequeathed to the posterity. And the new generation took pride in being the sole proprietors of a great lineage.
“She feels she is the CROWN of India. That put-on a British accent and that erroneous vocabulary, she thinks she will bring the lost glory to her family.”
This was the general talk about her in college, but she was undeterred. It was do or die situation and she was as serious and determined as the Quit India Movement, Non-Cooperation Movement and Dandi March.
Mrs. Jhunjhunwala, their English lecturer was amused at Manjula’s grit.
“This girl knows about her poor language skills but has not given up on her efforts. Every word she speaks is a blunder, she knows her limitations but tries to answer my questions confidently; The other day I was explaining Wordsworth’s Ode Intimations… and before I could read out the first line she said excitedly, ‘Child is the mother of invention’, I was too shocked to respond, she had mixed up two distinctive ideas and this concoction, I realized, could be interpreted in various ways. Just like, ‘It’s not brain surgery/ it’s not rocket science’ became ‘It’s not rocket surgery’ It’s not Brain science’ (what a concoction! like a mocktail) I sometimes wonder what is that goal that she wants to achieve. It’s not just a goal to ace, it is an ambition to prove the worth of her tribe or just hers.”
“Madam, now that you say, I too feel there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s just a language, it’s not rocket science! To be so keen, so passionate, and so touchy when someone mocks her, all this adds up to a different point of view – Her point of view. Why is it that we teachers chide them when they are disinterested in studies but fail to appreciate their efforts to do something that they are not -so good at it? We need to learn to be more worthy of this profession.” Chemistry madam, Ms Jwala Verma’s thoughtful observations made her admit her flaws as a teacher.
Other professors felt it was food for thought.
“Strange that so many bright students have never shaken us up one student whose background is not known to us, has made us introspect the purpose of being here.” They agreed unanimously.
“Madam Jhunjhunwala, you are close to Manjula, maybe you should counsel her, I feel she needs someone to share her thoughts with. She is almost a loner, whether it’s her choice to be aloof or there is some pressing issue that makes her stay away from the gangs, is not known. It could help her realize her dreams and find her passion.”
The staff resonated with her. The mathematics lecturer, Mrs. Renu Singh had similar thoughts about Manjula. Their observations and analysis were true but neither the teaching fraternity nor her classmates could even guess her willpower to do the impossible. Conjectures about Manjula’s ‘a past that dared her to challenge herself’ were rife in the college.
If she heard the cheap comments, she did not even return a glance in that direction. Her poise, the British poise was unmistakable. She knew her classmates made fun of her pretentious English style but it gave her the strength to pursue her goal. Her determination to conquer her foibles was her greatest asset.
From self-denial mode to defying fate, she had come a long way and she still had many milestones to cross. The biggest hurdle is a reluctant family. She had chanced upon a treasure in the attic and that, in addition to her determination, paved the uneven road to explore ways and means to get consent from the unwilling, rigid family. Manjula knew she had to conquer her fears and self-doubt first, to make things happen.
‘All roads lead to Rome’, was the phenomenon she believed in but ‘The road not taken’ was her grandparents’ stand; the road that led to English as a language, as a socio-cultural aspect of life was the abandoned road. It is a truism that we pursue that which eludes us. The tug of war was on.
She had always wondered at her grandparents’ adamant stance that English was prohibited area in their family. The day she found the album and her great grandfather’s service certificates issued by the erstwhile British Raj; she understood the reason for their rigidity. It was as though they wanted to vent their anger, and disgust by boycotting everything related to the language.
Whenever Manjula broached the subject, her grandparents would leave silently as though it was sacrilege to talk.
“I haven’t asked for the impossible, profane or unacceptable. It’s a simple equation I relate with.”
Her parents’ non-reciprocation and her grandparents’ displeasure contained reluctance and unspoken anger.
“Mom, this way we will never break the circle, our next generations too will suffer in silence.”
“Why does it matter so much to you Manju? Your great grandfather indeed worked under the Britishers, not ‘for’ or ‘with’, ‘under’ is the word. Do you understand what it means? They just trampled them.” It was as though his father’s wounds hurt him.
Her grandmother tried to comfort him, “Why should you feel all the pain of humiliation and insult? Times have changed and Manju’s dreams are relevant in this era. Don’t be so caustic with the girl. She has a point to make. No more discussions on English.”
Manjula’s parents remained silent spectators.
‘Why don’t they support me in my mission? My lecturers feel learning a language is not rocket science. Isn’t that what they had to say to one another in the staff room? ‘It’s not rocket science’, how easy for madam to say this….’
‘Were they making fun of me? Was it meant to demoralise me, insult me? How could teaching fraternity be so rude? It’s like writing me off, she can’t do even such a simple one. Don’t I have the flair for learning English, am I incapable of pursuing my dreams?’
Her mind refused to accept defeat.
‘Am I overthinking? Did they mean to insult me? Am I missing out on the vital point? What could it be?’
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.
She repeated it, first doubting the teachers’ intent, then savouring the feel of it. She drew sharp breaths and sighed.
‘I think my grandparents’ reluctance is rubbing off on me.’ She shrugged trying to shake off the ill feeling.
As soon as she reached home, she took aside her mother and with a sense of urgency blurted out, “Mom, is it so difficult to convince grandpa and grandmom about learning English? Despite bitter experiences during the British Raj, my great-grandpa did learn the English ways, not just the language. He complied with their ways and manners, unwillingly may be, but he was in their service. Is my interest in the language and my keenness to get a command over the language a sin, a blunder?”
Her mother understood Manju’s pain. Here is the daughter who wants to erase the bad memories from the family album by facing the challenge and there were sentiments related to the older generation who were exploited by the British Government. She could deny neither.
“Mom, is it rocket science to bring my grandparents to terms with the past?”
“I got your point, Manju. When we accept the past as a part of our lives, own and keep it, instead of detaching or avoiding it, life becomes a smooth journey, but easier said than done. I won’t stop you in your efforts to reconcile the past with the present. Life has been unfair to many who lived in that era. Some have moved on and some, like your grandparents, are stuck in the quagmire of a harsh past.”
Manju felt words get stuck in her throat. She cleared her throat and hugged her mother.
“Thank you for the encouraging words. Now I know it’s not rocket science – neither my learning the culture of the language nor bringing back the joys of life to granny and grandpa.”
Manjula was in awe of Dimple’s easy-go-lucky attitude, her flair for English and her comfort with the language. She was awestruck by everyone who had command over this fascinating language. Every time she came across Dimple either in the corridors or on the basketball court, she struggled to strike a conversation in a casual tone but her voice seemed to get stuck in her throat as if words got choked.
“Yes, that’s it, this complex is my irresolvable hurdle.” Manju was elated that she could finally crack the nut, at least identify the problem. It’s not so much her lack of knowledge or confidence but her inferiority complex.
What a relief! She knew what she had to do – push herself.
Having made up her mind, she walked confidently towards the common room. She held her head high, no more bent head with timid looks.
Murali and Saurabh were in a heated discussion. There were a few students who had gathered around them supporting neither in particular. It was fun for them, it did not matter whose point was stronger or more relevant, relevant or not, it was out and out entertaining and wasn’t that college life meant to be? Fun and frolic?
Manju approached the gathering in the hope of getting a glimpse of the warring duo. She heard Murali take a stand for the English language and Saurabh criticise him for demeaning the regional language.
“Remember without this second language you have no future. Show me one profession where you use regional language. I am not against the native language of a country or mother language, but we need to be practical. Don’t get carried away by language emotions, they have their place and space too, but these are applicable only in government offices. I understand your sentiment about it but so far and no further…..”
The crowd cheered him, ‘Here, here!’
“Why don’t languages get their due credit? Why are languages given first, second and third language status in the education system, when the medium of instruction in most of the schools is English? Why such bias? Regional languages and Hindi are frontbenchers as first and second languages and English is relegated to background. Ironically by the time you go for a job, everyone wants English-speaking candidates!
‘Are you well-versed with English? Are you conversant in English, are you tech/ English savvy? Bhai, communication skills are the in thing now.”
If Murali speaks will Saurabh be far behind?
Nay, never. He had his point too.
“Haven’t you heard scientists and researchers, scholars insist that medium of instruction should be mother tongue / regional language with which a student is comfortable and comprehends better?” Saurabh wasn’t the kind who budged.
“A strong hold on regional language paves the way for a better grasp of a foreign language. We, in India, consider English as a second language for the same reason. The native flavour is being replaced by foreign language culture,” bemoaned Sourabh.
“Hello guys, this is your English lecturer here…. dear Murali it is well-versed ‘in’ and not ‘with’. And now back to classes. I will be only too happy to be a part of this discussion. “Her sarcasm was as sharp as her ears.
The gathering dispersed in no time and the common room looked deserted.
Manjula was non-plussed. She had never heard such strong views about a language.
She remembered the lecturers’ conversation in the staff room. English madam’s words rang in her ears. She wouldn’t quit. So, what, if her family did not reveal the dismal past that made the family suffer in silence, face humiliation in society, and go through disgrace? She had come to know how her great-grandfather was subjected to the wrath of the Britishers. But that was the past. Why can’t they forget and bury it? Why are they so rigid?”
Her batchmates’ conversation at the canteen wasn’t funny; languages are storehouses of history, culture and traditions. How could anyone degrade language? They were mispronouncing and making fun of the language she so much wanted to be a part of; she aspired to be an integral part of that language culture that eluded her.
She wondered why she was not given enough exposure to the language of her dreams as a child.
‘Will it remain a dream? Is it possible to acquire those skills now or is it too late? Dimple had used some words for using correct words…. auto-correct that’s it. My teachers at school should have done this bit of ‘auto-correct’ At school it was always science and mathematics and languages remained in the back seat.’
Manjula murmured to herself. She felt someone tap on her shoulders. Mrs. Jhunjhunwala’s smiling face met her timid eyes.
“Happy to see you thinking and wondering. Correct yourself – auto-correct is a self-done act, so you learn to correct your errors. The auto-correct is a feature for smartphones and often this feature gives us erroneous words that could be disastrous. I mean, sometimes auto-correct may suggest words that could even ruin relationships. So, self-reliance is the best way to set things on the track.” She wasn’t poking fun at her ignorance nor was she pointing out her language flaws, it was a sincere effort to give this dejected girl the much-needed boost. (No, no not the ‘Boost is the secret of our energy)
Manjula thanked her silently.
“Say it Manju, your journey to self-discovery starts now. Be confident and the layers of self-doubt will get peeled away.”
“Thank you for this interaction.”
It was as though the overcast sky had cleared.
‘And look at me, the dumbo I am, I have never thought of putting forward my views with my family, I have been just urging them to change their opinion about the English language. They are right in their way, and their experiences have shaped their opinions, but I too have my identity and my views. And with changing times, they have to bury the hatchet and move on….’
She wanted to thank the duo for clearing the clutter in her mind. What an enlightenment!
“Did you see Murali and Sourabh?”
“Yes, of course, I have seen them several times. They are smart people, good at academics…” Someone was in a jovial mood.
She would have retorted but she checked herself, “Thank you for the update. I am indebted to you for sharing such vital information…” Her cheerfulness was infectious.
She wouldn’t defy her grandparents nor would she compromise.
She had turned a new leaf.
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