Circa 1987. A middle-aged businessman of Calcutta – Mr. Tapan Kumar Basu – was frantically looking for a good English teacher for his only son. The boy, a student at a reputed English medium school of Calcutta, was extremely weak in English. He would fail in the subject – with shocking numbers – in every terminal test, and could somehow barely achieve the pass marks in the annual exams. Any essay written by him – on any topic – would become very enjoyable for the class teacher and his classmates, as it was sure to display a genuinely funny species of English with scanty respect for grammar, accompanied by mind-boggling use of words. And he was so innovative and inventive, forming words like “bedalized” for “bed ridden”, which would leave people absolutely speechless.
Equally “impressive” was his spoken English. Despite being a student of a top English medium school of Calcutta, the boy would regularly find himself at a loss for words while communicating with somebody, leading to sentences with “errrr….”, “ummm….”, etc. And his fluency? Well, the lesser one talks about it, the better. No wonder that the boy would always try to escape any gathering where he was supposed to speak in English. He would even feel uncomfortable in the company of his cousin sisters, whom he was actually so fond of, as they would always converse in English.
Mr. Basu was sure that his son would never be good in the language, which was a must in today’s world. He just wanted the boy to be able to grab the pass marks. That’s all. And so he “launched” a “teacher hunting campaign” looking for a suitable person, who could ensure that the boy could develop the basic command of the English language, just the basic command.
Ultimately he got to know about one such teacher, through his brother-in-law (his wife’s cousin). So who was this gentleman? Was he a teacher of English at a reputed school, with a glossy “M.A. in English” degree under his belt? No, far from that. This 50-plus gentleman, Mr. Aniruddha Gupta, was just a government clerk, working for a crucial department of the West Bengal government. And his qualification? Well, B.A. in English. And that’s all. So what is his credential? Well, he has been in the field of private tuition for a long time, and is known for changing the lives of many a student.
So one fine morning Mr Basu went to Mr Gupta’s office, with his brother-in-law (whom Mr Gupta knew), shared his problem, and sought help.
- “You know, my son Raja is so weak in English….. In the last terminal test he has not only failed, but has scored such a low marks….. I am so worried, Sir, he is so bad in English…. I have heard a lot about you. You have changed the lives of so many students. Please ensure that Raja can secure at least the pass marks. That is all that I want……Please teach him the basic English, Sir.”
- “Mr. Basu, a teacher never teaches something to his students.” Came the calm reply. “In fact, no body can teach something to somebody. A person cannot be taught anything. He learns. I will never teach English to your son. I will just generate a love and passion for the language in his mind. The rest will fall in place.”
Within days Mr. Aniruddha Gupta took the charge of that boy. He started teaching him twice a week, and within days the boy realized the subtle difference in the teaching style of his tutor. Mr Aniruddha did not try to “thrust” the knowledge of the language on his student simply through dry and insipid discussions on grammar and sentence construction (though they were certainly a part of his teaching). His main objective was to generate in his student’s mind a genuine love and interest for English, by enabling the boy to realize the pleasure of writing and communicating in this rich and sweet language.
He introduced the boy to the world of world literatures – the beautiful world of Wodehouse, O’Henry, Mark Twain, Maupassant, and so on. He even encouraged him to read good comics, like Tintin, which is a fun-filled way to learn spoken English. He noticed the boy’s interest in global affairs, and got him to read superb coverage of the same in top English language newspapers and magazines. The boy used to read those editorials on topics that he would like, and would unknowingly get exposed to high quality English writing.
Mr. Aniruddha enthused (and not forced) the boy to consult the dictionary whenever he came across a new word, thus enriching his vocabulary by learning the meaning of the word. And the objective was not only to ensure that the boy could score marks by using that word during a class test. Rather, Mr. Aniruddha wanted his student to be always able to communicate – even in social gatherings – in a way that would be known not only for its content, but also for the quality of the language. Mr Aniruddha wanted his student to be a communicator par excellence, both in written as well as spoken English.
Very soon the boy fell in love with the language, the same language that had hitherto been his nightmare. Whenever he would get time he would explore the language. No, not out of any “determination” or “dedication” to strengthen the knowledge of English for academic reasons, but simply to enjoy the pleasure and thrill of hobnobbing with the mesmerizing language that he had misunderstood so far. He was now completely lost among all the gems based on this language - ranging from classic novels (Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Jules Verne, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Lous Stevenson) and short stories (O'Henry, Anton Chekov, Maupassant) to old and modern thrillers (Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Jeffrey Archer), old and modern racy works (ranging from Wodehouse to James Headley Chase), science fictions (like that of Issac Asimov), teenage thrillers (like Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew), comics (like Tintin), autobiographies and biographies (of statesmen, cricketers, entertainers, etc), motivational and relationship books (like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie), management books, travelogues, and so on. The boy also completely discarded Bengali newspapers, and developed the use of reading only English newspapers and following the national and global affairs through the same.
Needless to say that all these habits resulted in an appreciable level of command of the English language, with the boy now being pretty confident in writing in English. And that certainly had a positive reflection in the English language tests, as well, with now his marks in those tests showing an upward trend. He also developed, again as per the suggestion of his beloved tutor, a habit of talking to himself in English, using all the new words that he would learn. He would also try to interact mainly with friends and cousins who were English speaking. And this eventually resulted in a fluency in his spoken English, as well. And this made him much more confident in social gatherings, where he could now find himself freely interacting with English speaking crowds without any nervousness or inferiority complex. And this helped him to have new friends as well, who were really smart and interaction with whom taught the boy several new things about this world.
In a nutshell, the boy simply experienced a complete transformation of his overall personality.
Today that boy is a 30 plus communications professional. He earns his livelihood by preparing communications materials that not only require to be in impeccable English, but also need to display in-depth understanding and use of the various nuances of the English language. In fact, while preparing a document, he needs to play with the language, that5 too in style. And the person, who was once so weak in English, is not doing very bad.
He is also pursuing a host of hobbies – such as discussing various current issues (political, economic, social, etc.) in his blog, writing poems for poetry web sites, making friends across the world through online chatting, and so on. But he would not have been able to pursue any of these hobbies, if he had not been able to develop the more-or-less good command of English that he enjoys today, the command that was once a distant dream for him.
Whether he is preparing communications materials at office, or preparing a blog posting or poem at home, or having an exciting discussion or debate on current issues with his English speaking friends, at every moment the person realizes how indebted he is to his former tutor. That tutor, who was called to enable him to just grab pass marks in English tests, and who ended up with enabling his student to have a satisfactory command of the English language, which eventually opened so many beautiful sides of life for that fortunate boy.
Sir, I am really so lucky that I had a teacher like you. I am grateful to you. And I am also so proud, that I have been your student. Whatever I am today, it is only because of you.