Thursday, March 05, 2015


Children are full of optimism. They exude a positive vibe. For them, the world is full of wonder. Their enthusiasm is infectious. They don't hesitate to say Hi! to strangers.

But what of those children who are not privileged? Who feel self conscious because they don't go to an English medium school and still have to struggle with reading a foreign language?

I met such children when I was teaching in an NGO in Delhi- Manzil. Shy, with downcast eyes, the little squirts straggled in class, in a house. Although they were the majority in the class, still they read in a low voice.

In defeated tones they laboured on, stopping at nearly every word. “Break the words up,” I told them. So la-bour would be two words. “What does L.A. Sound like?” I asked quietly. “La,” they shot back.

It was like a ray of light piercing a thick cloud of darkness. They picked up speed quickly, stumbling in their eagerness to break up those words that had tortured them. Soon they broke words up in chunks that they could manage, without my telling them.

They became more regular too. And confident. Also cheerful. They had found a way to haul themselves up from the maze they had been thrown into.

I don't know whether they still retain that confidence. But I hope they have kept the larger lesson of breaking up a problem in manageable bits, in mind.

That's a lesson we can all do with. Sometimes, it slips away from us, and we find ourselves sinking helpless, against our will, in quicksand.

Teaching someone what is second nature to me helped me to remind myself of this trick. It taught me to be more compassionate, be thankful for my benefits. My problems, previously so large to me, seemed to dwarf in comparison to theirs.

We are all children in some field or the other. How do we approach our nemesis? Is it with a sword, ready to cut her to pieces? Do we cower, wondering when is her next jab?

That moment, when I watched those boys faces brighten, when they realized there was a method in the madness of the English language, is one that my subconscious draws on, when I need to. I hope they too recall that lesson, and implement it in all aspects of their lives.

Education is a great enabler, and we learn most when we teach. In this case, I didn't even know what I would be learning, but I did end up learning something useful, that isn't on a syllabus. In fact, I didn't even know I would teach like that, but I'm glad I could make a small difference.  

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