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18 year old Champa had arrived to work as a Nanny for me when I was a 10 year old. A Gujrati high school drop-out, she had confessed time and again that she found it extremely difficult to survive in Mumbai where life was getting increasingly influenced by the English language, with each passing day.
I soon realized that my proactive mother had dutifully taken up her cause without further dilly-dally. She could play Nanny the rest of the time but that one hour every evening, she’d take up my homework and also sit Champa down for her lessons.
Many lessons in numbers, alphabets and building of words later, progress was still very slow but my mother in all perseverance had gone on to teaching her singular and plurals.
“One root, two roots. Ok? But sometimes One tooth and many teeth.”, my mother taught. And she repeated.
“One foot, two feet. Got it?”
“Got it!” she said.
“Now you’ve learnt enough let me test you. One boot, then two…..?”
“Beet!”, pat came the reply.
Even if those patient lessons in English continued and Champa was able to speak fluently some day, I still couldn’t imagine how she’d ever be able to understand why ‘A Slim Chance’ and a ‘Fat Chance’ are the same. Or that a Guinea Pig is neither a Guinea nor a pig!
Why is it that whether you sit down or sit up, the results are the same?
How come Writers write but Fingers don't fing? And Grocers don't groce and Hammers don't ham?
Unless one grew up with such eccentricities, how could an adult be educated enough to KNOW this confusing language?
When Amitabh Bachchan rolled out that dialogue in Namak Hallal on T.V., Champa who was shelling peas sitting on the floor near me, started rolling over and laughing her head off. She couldn’t have concurred more with him at that particular point when he said, “ …because English is a very phunny language!”
It suddenly brought back that other scene from the Hindi movie Chupke Chupke to my mind when yet again, the actor Om Prakash tried to educate his driver and was bombarded with some very unique Questions, “ Agar T-O To (pronounced as Tu) hai, D-O Do (pronounced as Du) hai to G-O Go(pronounced as Gu) kyun nahi?” I also remembered the wife’s hand pulling the pallo over her nose at such a repulsive thought.
I thanked my stars that I was not Champa’s teacher and thus wasn’t at risk of being at the receiving end of such atrocious questions.
Champa had been taught telephone manners too and showed a little confidence in speaking a couple of sentences in English, now and then.
I overheard her once answering a phone call on our landline, “No, Madam is busy. Sorry! May I give her the MASSAGE?”
At yet another occasion she asked at the stationery shop, “Give me 10 A-4 size SHIT please.”
We used to poke fun at the Gujrati accent at school, which I thought was unfair but now that it was falling on my ears in reality, I couldn’t help smiling.
Champa would come and dutifully inform my mother, “Madam, guests in the HOLE! I will bring SNAKES?”
Champa was pretty loud and clear when she spoke English and teaching her pronunciations was an entirely different ball game!
One Sunday I heard my mother comment aloud, “Who says education in India happens only at schools?” Champa, wherever you go keep your eyes and ears open and you will have learnt the language in no time!”
I only realized my mother’s folly a little later when I walked to the bazaar with my mother and Champa in tow. I spotted some very interesting boards.
One read `Froot Stal’ and another boasted of ‘Froot chooce’. Though she kept pointing out and I corrected the spellings for Champa, my mother walked along with a sorry face.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted another sign, ‘Do not stick posters here. Stickers will be prosecuted.’ And to think Champa had trouble expressing herself in English. These literates really needed to go back to school too.
Yesterday I received an E- Mail with photographs of signs with abominable spelling mistakes. And they immediately reminded me of that incident and Champa’s Adult Education sessions.
Hats off to the Operation FLAW (Functional Literacy for Adult Women), though it sounded defective by its abbreviated name it did turn out to be a roaring success, eventually.
Meet the team :