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What Grandma taught me - a heartwarming story of how Grandma learnt English and proved that nothing is Impossible.
What Grandma taught me – a heartwarming story of how Grandma learnt English and proved that nothing is Impossible.
It happened when I was eight. As a ritual grandma Krishnaveni, Veni (that’s what Gramps lovingly called her) walked me to and from the bus-stop where I boarded my school-bus. We loved these walks that wove themselves with so many stories. We shared an Aristotle and Plato like bonding.
One day, she read aloud the red writing on a patch of whitewashed wall behind the bus-stop, with difficulty. It read –
To become an expert in English
Address: 101, Madinaguda
Next to JNTU X-Roads
Ph: 36495 60920
Since that day, she kept looking at the words like a vampire craving blood.
One evening she re-read that sign for a few minutes and dragged me along a couple of blocks to the address from the graffiti.
It is not for old people like you. You should pass 10th class to join here.
The lean guy chewing pan at the front desk asked a few initial questions and arrogantly said, “It is not for old people like you. You should pass 10th class to join here.”
He chewed on his pan a few times and asked, “Do you even know the English alphabet?” He bared his pan-stained teeth at his own joke.
She’s not old. She’s only 51, I thought.
Granma’s face turned red as we zoomed out of the office. I couldn’t decipher if it was from humiliation or outrage. She cursed his backward thinking all along our journey home and said, “Idiot. Amul listen, never stop learning and never let anyone make you believe something is impossible.”
Since then I observed her spend a lot of time watching TV, especially the English channels.
In three months, she spoke English fluently. Of course she had a thick accent, doubly-rolled her Rs, her Ms were yums and zero was a geero.
Nevertheless, when I asked her how she did it, she said, “I initially bought three books – Tagore’s Gitanjali, English-English and English-Telugu dictionaries. I first memorised the passages from Gitanjali. Then recalled each word from memory and looked up its meaning in the dictionaries. Made notes and listened to people talk on English TV channels.”
“Wasn’t it difficult to read English?”
“I went to school until I got married at 13.”
Oh yeah, she read the graffiti with difficulty. I recalled.
“How many books did you read?
“Eighteen books in three months.”
That day, I pressed the delete button on the word ‘Impossible’ from my dictionary.
That was my dear journal on what I said in the two minutes allotted to me at the International student orientation. I gave the audience a little taste of home – My India which they never see or hear about in our media driven world.
Journal Entry dated: 12th September 2004.
University of Saskatchewan
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