When CBSE Tenth Board results for my school batch were declared, I was one of the worst performers in English. I couldn’t cross even 65 marks in English. Actually, I was never good at English. I loved solving problems of Mathematics and Physics, reading Hindi poetries, playing basketball, but I was hardly inclined towards English.
One big reason for not feeling embarrassed about poor English was that none of my school friends ridiculed me for my poor English. I was probably lucky to study in a Sainik School where academics were just facets of life. Students were respected for their annual report card, but the heroes of our batch also had those students who created records in cross-country races, students who represented the school in English and Hindi debates, student who painted life on drawing sheets – irrespective of their academic background.
My teachers taught me that education liberates your soul and acts as a toolkit to shape your imaginations. The other reason why I was never ashamed of my deprived English was that my teachers elucidated me that like Hindi, English is another medium to express your thoughts.
My poor English was sufficient enough to act as an interface between me and my Physics books, my Mathematics books, my basketball discussions, my friends and my teachers. There were days when I struggled to understand English poems of Tagore or W. B. Yeats from books kept in the library, but then such disappointments were soon overtaken by the joy of new RMO (Regional Mathematical Olympiad) or INMO (Indian National Mathematical Olympiad) questions, basketball matches or random discussions. I deserved to get less than 65 marks in English and I hardly had any guilt or embarrassment for that.
When I started my graduation, I realized that I should explore realms beyond mechanics and algebra to understand how would I like to shape my future. College had huge diversity and I made friends from all across the India – South Indians who didn’t understand Hindi, Mumbaikars who were more comfortable in English, Delhiites who read Agatha Christie instead of Premchand.
I worked on my English to understand them and they started using tooti-footi Hindi to gel with other batch mates. Together we represented our college in many national level theater competitions.
I learned issues, humor, crisis, frustrations and ideologies prevalent in non-Hindi society from them and I shared my experiences of Hindi society with them. English served as a medium and we, depending on our capacities, tried to understand and address society and human psychology through various forms of art. I got a chance to read Dostoevsky, Camus and Badal Sircar; to listen to songs of Floyd, Lennon and Morrison; to read about Picasso, Neruda and Gibran. I could manage this with my manageable English. I never felt embarrassed for my average English and they never felt ashamed of their tooti-footi Hindi.
After graduation, I developed an inclination towards literature and social sciences. Hindi literature doesn’t address global circumstances in details. English, due to a good market force, has much better translators and publishers. I had to work a lot to upgrade my English so that I can interpret and interact better.
Medium is a path to decide your journey. I still struggle to express myself many times, but that struggle keeps me moving. I feel bad when I fail to construct my thoughts, I feel bad when my opinions are diluted due to poor grammar, but I don’t feel embarrassed.
When people ridicule me for my English, I don’t feel guilty, but I feel proud that I spent my childhood among friends who prioritized idea over the medium, struggle over shallowness, diversity over cultural biases, and appreciation over narcissism.