Thursday, 1 September 2016

MY TRYST WITH ENGLISH



Pssst … guys, I’ll let you in on a couple of my closely-guarded secrets.

किसीसे कहना।

I spoke my first full-length sentence in English during my … please DO NOT gawk … SSLC, acronym for Secondary School Leaving Certificate i.e. Matriculation of yore!

It went like this.

The scene was in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. The year was 1963-64. The time was evening. A visitor to my sister’s place inquired if she and my brother-in-law were home, which they were not. I informed him accordingly and he probed further to know when they would return. Then followed my tryst with the फिरंगी language.

I replied, They will be coming.

This sentence is etched in my memory and on my liver as well, forever.

P.S.: It is of no importance that I tom-tommed my achievement with great fanfare to all my relatives, who returned a short while later.

***

Actually, the problem had its roots in the past. You see, up to high school, the medium of instruction for me was Telugu, my mother tongue. Suddenly, from Standard VIII, all subjects, except the second language, Telugu, were taught in English.

A problem, wasn’t it? No, it was not a simple problem; it was a HUGE problem, for me. My knowledge and practice of English was limited to learning by rote and reproducing from textbooks and teachers’ notes. The lectures and explanations were in Telugu up to Standard VII and I suddenly found myself in the unfamiliar English waters. I used to have difficulty in following, leave alone understanding, the flow of the lecture. A majority of the words of the lecturer could have been Greek or Latin to me, for all that mattered.

To illustrate my frustration, here is a sample.

I used to note down as “go inside” when the science teacher said, “coincide”. I cannot blame his accent for my linguistic and etymological woes. Simply, the boundaries of my vocabulary did not coincide with “coincide”, then.

***

My general reading of English books?

Again, please DO NOT gape. It began during my COLLEGE days!

It strictly ended with the compulsory and prescribed textbooks of the curriculum. Still, within that limited ambit, I could read two of the greatest works ever in English literature viz. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes, during my school days.

In college, while doing my Bachelor’s in Maths, the scope of the first language, English, widened. It encompassed immortal works of Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra and Twelfth Night …), Thomas Malory (Le Morté d’Arthur), Oliver Goldsmith (The Vicar of Wakefield), John Milton (Paradise Lost Pt.), Charles Dickens (David Copperfield), et al. However, these, too, were compulsory.

Those days, one of my elder brothers and his family were at Madras (now, Chennai). We used to meet frequently. I observed that he was a good reader of modern English fiction – thrillers, mysteries, romantic novels, etc. I picked up my first general reading, “Dr. No”, an Ian Fleming novel, from my brother’s collection … and never looked back.

I went on to read modern writers such as Agatha Christie, Alistair Maclean, Frederick Forsyth, Erle Stanley Gardner, Leon Uris, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Crichton, Irving Wallace, Arthur Hailey, Robert Ludlum, James Hadley Chase, et al. Of all these, my personal idols and icons were, are, and will always be Agatha Christie, Alistair Maclean, and Frederick Forsyth. None influenced my English language repertoire and writing skills more than these three writers did. I am Ekalavya to these three Dronacharyas. (Please do not remind them, for they could ask for my right thumb as guru dakshina, and I have but one.)

I learnt quite a lot from the other writers, too, legal systems from Gardner, storytelling techniques from the master Wallace, and so forth.

***

I cannot say, “Well, that concludes …” whatever it is I started with, for learning is an endless journey. To make a pithy statement, “THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION.”

My tryst with English continues. My journey into the world of writing continues. My search for a/the purpose of life continues.

Thanks for travelling with me, albeit for the short duration of the length of my writings.

Blessings.

***