M E A Higher Secondary School in Delhi attracted most of the South Indian kids in the early 50s and 60s as it was known as a School that imparted and trained students to shoulder higher responsibilities in life. The School boasted of at least 15-20 students who appeared in the Merit list of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) year after year till the early 70s. The School got rechristened as DTEA Higher Secondary School in the year 1969 to grab a donation of Rs 1 lac announced in one of the Special felicitation function organised to honour the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Sri M Karunanidhi who laid a condition to showcase the word Delhi Tamizh as the first two words describing our School. So much love for Tamizh and its people living more than a thousand kilometer away from the main Tamizh land known as Madras!!
Tamizh was given prominence than Hindi or English in the School and the teachers aligned themselves to this concept. Naturally, the ability to speak English or fluent Hindi was weak amongst the Tamils living there although they could manage very well with that little knowledge that they were acquiring in the School. In fact, the Hindi spoken by South Indians used to be known as Madrasi Hindi as the locals never knew that there were 5 states beyond Central India that spoke and nurtured 5 different languages which was totally different from each other!! Down below Vindhyas, people were called Madrasis!!
It is during these times that children like us were very much put under pressure from our parents who insisted and encouraged us to speak in English. We were studying in Tamizh Schools and felt happy and comfortable to speak in Tamizh. Most of my classmates were so bad in Hindi as well and could not come to terms with grammar that was quite unique! I knew of a neighbour, a lady who had just moved in from the then state of Madras bargaining with a Banana vendor " 12 Ana darjen ku devu na devu, devatti povu"!!
My father who used to work for Hindustan Times often insisted that I speak in English to my friends who came to my home to play when we were studying in secondary classes. The result was very clear- my friends stopped coming to my house!!
Once my neighbour, a sardar named Jagmohan Singh who used to frequent us regularly, came to my house on a Sunday to play with me and my friends. He had seen the famous epic movie "Ramayana" that got released in Liberty theatre near my house in Karol Bagh, the previous evening! As usual, We got to listen to the story narrated by the Sardar in Hindi when my father appeared suddenly and encouraged my friend to narrate the story in English! The plot was how Hanuman ji carried both Ram and Lakshman on either of his shoulders and flew in the air to carry on the fight against Ravana, the abductor of Sita mata! My father wanted to ensure that the story came in English and stood there! A bit aghast, the sardar continued the narration with such ease- " Ram sitting here(showing his left shoulder) and Lakshman sitting here(showing his right shoulder) and Hanuman Aasmaan mein Uding(meaning Hanuman took to the sky)"!!!! This evoked peels of laughter not only from my father but also from all of us who had gathered to listen to the story!! The incident became so popular that even till this date, we mention about this whenever there is an occasion to remember this or narrate.
One of our classmates, who never missed an opportunity to visit Kali Temple on Baird Road, every Friday, could not afford college education and learnt Type writing and shorthand. He went for an interview with a multinational company on Curzon road. It was winter time and the interview was set up early in the morning at 9 am. He promptly reported for the interview on time and the Manager asked him to relax and warm up. Not understanding what the Manager meant, he dashed across to the corner of the room where a room heater was on and placed his hand before it to warm up. The Manager started laughing and quipped if he would take home a chair if he asked him to take his chair before commencement of interview!! Later on when he narrated this to all our classmates, everyone laughed but learnt something quietly.
The difference between present and past tense was difficult to understand in our younger days. Once the English class teacher asked one of our classmates- What is the past tense for I made a mistake?Promptly came the answer from the boy" I was made by Mistake"!!!! The teacher laughed and the entire class just because the teacher laughed!!!
My cousins who were in Delhi studied in a convent school where English was just the basic language. Going to a convent School also required quite a bit of that extra money which only a few could afford! All my cousins numbering 4 used to speak, sneeze and cough in English and I always thought it was some thing like the 9th wonder of the world. All that I could converse with them was a simple Yes or No. My father used to visit their house often talking both me and my sister along so that we could interact and play with all my cousins and in the process learn English!! Though a brilliant idea from the elderly point of view, it pushed us back in terms of complex and soon we hated visiting their home just because they would breathe, talk and eat only in English which was alien to us!!
There were an Anglo Indian family residing just in front of our home which had a boy and a girl of our age group. My father encouraged me to talk to them in English and I used to dread them not because of anything but for the fear of speaking in English!! I could never go beyond single words like Thank Q, yes, no, good morning and good night! Not only me but all my schoolmates were shy enough to avoid such confrontations with people who could converse in English! My School head master Sri Ramakrishnan, whom the boys had named "Velakkennai"(castor oil ) used to beat us with a scale if found talking to any North Indian and his only view was that We, the south Indian boys would get spoilt!!! The punishment that the students got from the English Teacher Mr Saxena every day for mispronunciation or wrong usage will run into hundreds of pages if narrated!! At the end of the day, now when we look back, our heart humbly thanks all those teachers and the parental pressure and directions to make us what we are today! English is quite an easy job and a way of life!!