I was shipped to Shimoga, one of the districts in a southern state known as Karnataka in India. This state housed three million plus community of Kannada speaking people who spoke various dialects of the language across many of its districts. Fun-fact: When the British rule ended, states and state borders were drawn based on the language spoken by the majority.
So, leaving Bangalore did not scare me as I was going to another Kannada speaking district. But what scared me most was that I had to switch to the English medium of instruction to continue my studies. For that, I was not ready. The train that I boarded was nearing Shimoga. It was just few stations away. With thousand of questions in my head to sort out the new place, the new people, the new school and the new study language, the only thing that was eating my head was how anyone can teach what I needed to learn, all in English. I did not know how to face this new challenge of learning after spending most of my learning through Kannada medium of instruction. What changed everything, however, was the casual encounter of an English teacher who boarded my train at a small town near Shimoga.
The encounter was not a great encounter, as it remained casual throughout the journey. He seemed to empathize with my fear of learning in a language that is foreign to many of us. However, he claimed that even though learning in English medium of instruction is not going to be easy, it is possible with little bit of effort by anyone who is motivated to take on that challenge. I was not ready to believe that yet. But he added, after learning Kannada, learning English for him was not that difficult. He went on to say that he is now teaching English to anyone who wants to learn that language. That got me interested in him and I was bit curious to know his mother tongue. He said he spoke Urdu, and, Hindi came naturally because of that. For a moment, I thought he must be from northern part of India. So, essentially, I was thinking that he must have a knack of being a multi-lingual as my father, while I was lamenting that I am not even bi-lingual! At that point in time, I had written myself off to become a multi-lingual, just hoping to become good enough to learn in English. I never thought we would cross paths ever again to continue the quest of learning English through him and with him when we both disembarked from the train.
But I was wrong. On my first day at the new high school, I was relieved to see that the very first class happened to be learning English. I thought sooner I learn this dreaded language better I will be at understanding the rest of the subjects like social studies, sciences and geography. I welcomed that.
I was perhaps busy talking to others to get to know them. I was glad to know that one of the students had done his primary schooling in English medium. He definitely would become my close friend and best friend and my savior. I did not hear the teacher entering the class room, but when I looked up to see who the teacher is, I gasped. He was none other than the fellow passenger I met on the train.
For a moment, I was lost in the thoughts of what he had said in the train. There was nothing I could recall. Only thing that kept coming up was that he said something about being multi-lingual. Soon he was bellowing over our chatter to introduce himself as the toughest teacher in the school, and asking us to be quiet immediately. The blood drained out of my body as I was dreading the teacher more than the language. I was not sure that this was the same teacher I met on train. The class became silent as everyone started hushing each other down to be quiet. Then he laughed and continued to laugh non-stop. One of those coming from the belly, making the belly heave up and down when he laughed, made all of us laugh too. When he began the class after all that initial jolt, he just said do whatever you want, but don’t fail in his class. One of the girls sitting in the front got up and said, ‘Tariq Sir, I will promise you that I will come first in your class my studying hard’. I was muttering to myself ‘you won’t be, it will be my friend for sure’. He soon became one of my favorite teachers and what he taught me became worthy of the efforts he took in teaching me the intricacies of the language on our train journeys. It is all worthwhile now to share this story from my schooling days in early 1960s as one of my many memorable learning experiences.
We now talk about outcome based learning, problem based learning and so on and so forth. They were all there at the time of our learning, but we did not give them a name. They were a mix, of all types of learning, but learning was made as fun by this teacher. He explained to us that English is a language that came out of many languages to open up our minds to explore other langauages. He outlined that English, even back in England, would not be understood by many across their neighborhoods as the English dialects varied and is even different from that spoken in their neighboring state. What we know now, we knew all that, but in a fun way.