I come from Bihar. I am sure this four-word sentence was enough to tell you all you need to know about my command of English (or the lack of it).
My whole school life, I rarely talked to my teachers. I even shied away from asking any questions I had during my classes. All this was because I could not speak English. The few conversations I did manage to string together with my teachers were mostly in broken, barely intelligible English. In fact, my teachers used to see me as a shy, introverted student, so they always tried to their best to make me take part in school and class events. However, I used to go absent for events that required me to speak in English.
The good thing was that I was aware of my problem and wanted to do something about it. That is why I went for the simplest fix to every issue on the planet – I googled it! Most of the blogs and articles I read suggested reading English newspapers and watching English movies. However, I was not really fond of reading newspapers. As for movies, I had never quite managed to watch one without subtitles. Obviously, I was not sure if this was something I could do, but the thing with life is that if you do not grow on your own, it tends to put you in situations that leave you with no other option.
That is what happened with me – during my final, eleventh-grade exams, to be precise. It so happened that I needed an additional answer sheet. This was something very common. However, what was not so common was that the invigilator noticed that I kept saying – and you might need to keep yourself from laughing here – ‘shit’ instead of ‘sheet’. My invigilator mocked me and said that I would not get the sheet until I pronounced the word right. I gave it a couple of attempts, but when you have no idea where you are going wrong, you generally have a hard time setting it right.
By then, everyone in the classroom had stopped writing their exams and had turned their attention to me. They were all laughing – at me, of course. I felt embarrassed, but I laughed to try and dissipate that air of awkwardness. While the teacher did eventually hand me the extra sheet, the humiliation was far from over for me. I felt extremely sad for the next few days. No, it was not because the whole class had laughed at me, but because my crush had done so too. Anyways, the worst was yet to come.
Our English teacher happened to be our invigilator during one of our grade-twelve exams. I am sure you can guess what must have happened there. The situation went further downhill for me when I was absent from school for about a month and needed to submit a leave application for the same. Actually, I had written the application on behalf of my father. I asked my best friend to read it for me to see if I had drafted it properly or not. He laughed out loud at a mistake I had made in the application. As one would expect of a trustworthy best friend, the letter had soon been shared with everyone in class. The letter was also shown to our English teacher, following which she was quick to bring up the “shit” incident. Once again, I found myself as the subject of my class’ laughter.
Oh, and in case you are wondering what that mistake in the letter was, I had used ‘his’ (instead of ‘her’) throughout the letter. It was not long before everyone in the school knew about it. It would not take a genius to guess what I was going through. I felt frustrated, sad, and angry, all at once. The one question that kept reverberating around my mind was why. I studied in a reputed English-medium school – then why was my English so poor?
It may sound hard to believe, but my best friend had been the only person who had not mocked me over this horrendous time. Coincidentally, his English was pretty good, too. Disgruntled, I turned to him and sought his help. I was quite surprised when he told me that his English had not been great either. However, he had done two simple things to improve it over time – reading the books that he found interesting, and watching his favorite cartoon shows in English.
Later, I went to the school library and started looking for some book that I found “interesting”. That is when I stumbled upon The Immortals of Meluha. The cover caught my attention at once, and I decided to take the book home. The more I read it, the more it caught my interest. The ridicule I faced on a daily basis also kept me motivated to keep going.
Something extraordinary happened while I was reading the book. I did not procrastinate, or daydream, or let my concentration waver one bit. I was fully focused on the book, like I had never been before on anything in my life. Little did I know that this was just the beginning to a special connection I would go on to develop with books.
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