Loving the languages you learn!
Until I was inducted into a school system to groom my faculties like all children under the regime of an educational framework, the only means of communication I had known was the dialect known as Pahari. And it had served me pretty well to communicate anything I needed, thought or felt . It came so naturally as leaves on a tree!
A new horizon was presented by the teaching of the formal Hindi language in the Devanagari script. The words occurring in Hindi had much in common with the jargon of my dialect and the lexicon of either language had common roots in many verbal formations. Therefore the learning of Hindi presented no tough task for any of us.
Moreover, the sing-song manner in which the alphabet of Devanagri was made to go down our memory made it a very simple affair. It all started with poems, stories and lessons trying to inculcate patriotism or respect for the composite Indian culture.
Writing on a wooden slate (which was given a smooth coating of yellow chalk several times a day) with a reed pen having a well-cut, angled-tip serving as a nib, was pure fun. The teacher would sometimes hold our hand to negotiate curves and angles in the script.
The medium was black ink, carried in a small iron inkpot having a rubber stopper taken from discarded injection vials. A small slip of cotton cloth would serve as a buffer to save the ink from spilling. Stealing dips from the neighbour’s inkpot was a usual prank that sometimes invited punishment from the teacher.
Punjabi in Gurumukhi script was introduced as the Second Language at the level of Fourth standard. It was a language understood, but seldom used, by us till then in speech or writing. A kind of pride was felt when we were given to understand that it was a language sanctified by the blessings of the Sikh Gurus and consecrated by its use in Sri Guru Granth Sahib! We used to associate it with Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, two names that were more widely known to children of my age.
The writing skills in this language of the warrior race were also practiced on the wooden slate. It took us some time to attune to the involuted vowel symbols of Gurumukhi. However, to us Punjabi seemed to be a commanding and forceful language as compared to Hindi which, we felt, was more polite and formal.
Besides, as most of the less educated people from the hilly area would go seeking private jobs in cities of Punjab and during usual visits, once in a year, would speak a funny mix of Pahari and Punjabi , the children felt that these folks commanded a kind of superior lingual skills. Therefore, we sometimes would use Punjabi in conversation in order to sound more impressive. And that left us proud!
The new tool in our armoury of languages was English when at the Sixth standard we started with its alphabet .That was the valuable legacy of the British and we had to acquire it with a sense of pride. Using a special G-nib, we wrote it on exercise books with four lines. In a single year, we could read simple stories, lessons, letters and essays. But most of it was sheer cramming without a grasp over the grammar.
In 1961, the Chief Minister, Punjab during a visit to Kangoo announced that a JBT course would be attached to our school. In January, 1962, one Teacher Trainee, Ramesh Chopra was allotted our class (Class VII) for his Teaching Practice module. On the first day itself, he gauged our shallow grasp over the grammar.
He framed a plan and for one month he worked on it unrelentingly. He engaged every learner in this effort and taught us about sentences and their transformation, tenses, word formation, inflections of verb and degrees of adjectives, analysis, change of voice and narration.
Resultantly, when at the end of five weeks he completed his Teaching Practice, he left behind an admiring and grateful class of curious learners of English language who were no more parrots repeating syllables and words. But for the divinely ordained appearance of this motivated teacher in my academic life, the very course of my career could have been entirely different! The imprint was indelible! O…the difference that he made!
(The author is a Retired Principal, Government College, Hoshiarpur (Punjab)