Wednesday, December 1, 2010

E for... English !

I’ve completed my entire school education in the same institution…for which I take credit (I don’t know how the school sees it)…anyway, the full sentences I write in English these days, with or without errors, are wholly attributed to this school and to my English teachers (and Microsoft Word spell check).

‘Talk in English within the school premises’ – was a discipline of this highly established Convent school, and this made us first grade inherent chatterboxes remarkably reserved and insecure. Hmm. Already we were busy with other routine activities like wasting lunch, losing pencils and other stationery, and tearing paper from text books(of other students, of course). Now see what a burden had befallen us. At 60, the Principal had nothing to lose to execute a discipline like this. But she did have something to lose. Her image. Once one of my English retarded friends wished her ‘Good Morning’- in the evening…and she also graciously returned her a good morning! So we aren’t talking about anyone’s image here anymore.

During our primary school days the struggle was topped with embarrassment. Although our parents were well versed in English, we spoke in Malayalam at home. So, one can equate ‘talk in English’ = ‘stop talking’. This eventually resulted in comparatively calm classrooms, and the class leader would have limited or no job, much to the delight of teachers.  This was a period when passing of messages in folded papers was invented. This enabled free and full fledged communication between us friends, in Malayalam. Later, full notebooks were attributed for this purpose! But remember, all this happens within my circle of friends only; class leaders and studious girls were carefully avoided. Papa had advised me not to be in the company of bad girls, you know?

As we grew older, the ‘talk in English’ rule was prevalent, but we dint care anymore. This was a time when we had become fully grown brats and walked the corridors with heads up, and both hands in pocket… even when a teacher passes by. The same teachers at whose very sight, once upon a time, we used to wish, bowing our heads so low with humility and respect, that after she leaves we get a head rush and can’t see anything for the next few seconds. But the good thing was that all the English grammar, poetry, short stories, and the articles in the Hindu newspaper which was forced on us by parents, had borne fruit. But then the Indian Council of Secondary Education dint like what had happened; they dropped a bomb called 'Merchant of Venice' on us in the tenth grade.

Shakespeare lessons rewrote all our fundamental concepts of English grammar. ‘Aside’ and ‘Soliloquy’ became the order of the day. Oh my…and the turtle pace at which the ‘Merchant of Venice’ classes were going…! One paragraph or four lines in an hour!

Hidden meanings + Most likely other meanings + literal meaning + what the critics of the 16th century thought + what Shakespeare meant + what we are supposed to infer = five 200-page notebooks for Merchant of Venice.  It’s likely that Antonio and Portia wouldn’t have been aware of a sea of meanings attached to their casual conversations. Or maybe they meant something else. Ah who cares? We want marks.

Essay type questions demanded original Shakespearean sentences to be reproduced in answer sheets with quotations marks. And the teacher enlightened my friend N that ‘Even if you don’t quote, please don’t misquote’. So the bad news was that, we are not supposed to write our own sentences, beautify them with ‘thou art’, ‘Thine’ etc, topped with semicolons, commas and tildes, enclose them within quotation marks and expect teachers to award marks. They actually read these. Sigh.

Anyway our teachers, in the days when Google was not so popular, gathered enough information from the British Library to change our lives from miserable to pathetic. How we all overcame it all without tainting the image of our then teacher is another feat, and I hereby dedicate it to the sweat, BP pills, prayers, hypertension and support of our parents. *bowing head in gratitude*.

But the battle was not over yet! Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost ! HAMLET happened!

Shakespeare’s Hamlet began in the 11th grade with a conversation of the ghost of Late King Hamlet. The characters which were living had already done enough damage. If a Shakespearean character had to appear after death, it means that it had something earth shattering to say. God what on earth did this guy miss to say during his lifetime, I wonder! We’d be immensely grateful if this ghost silently murdered an existing complex character. But this was no ordinary ghost. It went on to utter a few passages which made integration, differentiation, and Physics theorems look like nursery rhymes. Misery and more misery awaited us.

That’s when she came. Our new English teacher, Ms.Lakshmi.

She had big expressive eyes, and an unbeatably excellent vocabulary. Her style of speaking English…mode of teaching…and how she loved and enjoyed what she taught…was definitely a class apart. Sometimes we even felt the urge to make mental notes of her casual conversations! Oh for the impact she made! It was so perfect. Come what may, we never missed her classes...not even me. Well, if a teacher can keep people like me engaged in a subject for an hour then I needn’t explain any further. She made us realize how we Indians had customized the sound and pronunciation of certain words to our convenience…and ventured out of her way to teach us how it really had to be pronounced. Wow. She could read the confusion in our eyes and the wrinkles on our foreheads. She captured our concentration with smiles and not frowns. She talked, and did not scream. And finally, she walked us through Hamlet like a dream… and one of the many things I miss about school are these Hamlet classes. We virtually watched the entire play of Hamlet unfold before us…the effervescent voice, and the expressions that kept changing on her face. Live. And that’s how we loved English. And why we still do.

 Thank you, teacher…because of you, I have a blog today.


  1. she deserves to read this, you know... any chance you can get that tribute to her eyes ?

  2. Hmm I'd love to...but she left our school when our batch passed out in 2001...dont know where she is now...but now that you asked...let me see if I can find her ! Good thought :)

  3. Good writing indeed, Anita. It is the remembrance of the school days and the acknowledgment of thankfulness to the the teacher concerned, which really matters. Yes, a teacher is always remembered by the students if they are inspired by their gestures, advice, counseling capabilities and, of course, teaching. Best Wishes

  4. :) :) :) Thank u Papaa !!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. more power to lakshmy teacher..she was a true inspiration to all of us..and her grace and poise..aaahhh!!!..thanks to her we readers have a thoroughly enjoyable blog to turn to whenever we are in need of a few laughs!

  6. awesome girl.. i couldn't stop laughing reading the first few paragraphs.. Keep up the good work and write more...

  7. Ash: :) true Ash. and thanks a lot !

    Aparna: Thank u so much dear !

  8. Awww... The ending caught me by surprise...The post my dear, was awesome! And ROFL! :)

    As for me, I don't remember much of the Shakespeare I was taught in school. But then we were blessed with an awesome teacher, who used to give an explanation, for each Shakespearean line, which if reproduced word for word translated into a score of 90 in Delhi board! Hmmm... I have never thanked her I just realized....

  9. Nice one ... loved the narration . And teachers can do wonders ... :-)

  10. Beautifully written ,Anu !How i wish your teacher could read this post of yours ..She'll be very proud of you.

  11. nice post.Looks like we have some things in common. I too completed entire school education in one institution and the part about talking in english making class rooms go silent takes me all the way back to my school days as well. And yes, your teacher would definitely be proud of you.

  12. Choco: Thanks, Choco, for a beautiful comment.

    Praful: Sure...teachers can do wonders.This is one good example:)

  13. Anjana chechi: Thanks a ton , chechi ! Even I wish she could read this post... dont know where she is, now :(

    Sunitha: Thanks Sunitha...and great to know it brought back memories :)

  14. I cannot but agree more to this blog of yours. MoV and Hamlet were the biggest nightmares in our school time. But looking back they helped to mould us in many ways. Actually I had started loving them towards the end of the course, typically when I really open the books - but then it was too late :-D... The phrases like 'brevity is the soul of wit' of Hamlet were pretty interesting... I guess when Shakespeare ran out of words or phrases.. he just created one!

    The twist in your blog to show the influence of a Lakshmy teacher is brilliant. I can resonate the same feeling since we had a similar powerful teacher Deepa Pillai, our very own 'DeePee'! The influence of such people are perpetual..

    As always, great writing and superb sense of humour.. keep it going :-)

  15. Davis: Yes , when I wrote about Lakshmy teacher, I remembered DP, as we've heard how you guys used to adore her. She must have been special, as taming you guys and making you actually like her is no simple task !

    I knew you could relate to this post, like my other ICSE-ISC friends here, as we all went through this phase together :D

    Thanks a ton for your encouragement. It really means a lot.(Not dont kill me !)

  16. Beautiful. You're so tender-hearted. Blessings.

  17. i can sooo relate to this...we had some similar rules about talking in english and we actually got fined if we broke the rule..miss those days a lot now ;)
    ...i loved English a lot too except for the grammar section!!

  18. Ninz: Glad you could relate to the article :) Thanks! And I love English too !

  19. Dibakar: Thanks :) A compliment like that was for the first time !

  20. Anita,I was very proud to read what you wrote about Lakshmi because,hold your breath...she is my closest friend and I am sure it is the same with Lakshmi too.
    I always knew she puts her whole being into what she does and is sincere to the core.So it doesn't surprise me to hear about the impact she has made on you.
    Looking back her biggest asset would be students like you who could take in all what she taught in fill measure and let yourself change with the way you feel about English.
    you have a very humorous way of expressing yourself.Keep it up and do continue with your blogging.

  21. Bhoomiputhri: I am so overwhelmed to see this comment from you, and so blessed to let my teacher also know that she was my inspiration to write. Thank you so much for the patience and to leave a comment.