We spoke about unsolicited advice yesterday. After the first school admission notice came out in September this year, suddenly my state of mind seemed to be in a state of permanent chaos. Amidst several other concerns related to the preparation for interviews, one factor that suddenly became a priority item on our agenda was to work on his ‘fluency’ in English.
In a typical middle-class Bengali household residing in Bengal, the usual mode of communication is in Bengali or Bangla, as we prefer to call it. Tuneer had started speaking quite earlier than usual and by the time he had turned three, his ability to communicate in clear sentences often led us in highly embarrassing situations for he often disclosed things that were only meant to be kept private. He spoke so much that often it would remind me of my late mother’s statement about how I was such a talkative child both at home and school. With Sr. T staying away from the city five-six days a week, my father and in-laws try to work out a schedule that ensures at least one of them being available in Kolkata at any given point.
Even if my convent education poked me to make an attempt to teach this boy a couple of important sentences in English, his Bengali-medium educated Doctor father kept laughing it off. With a retired Maths Professor as his maternal grandfather and a paternal grandfather whose knowledge on technology and current affairs always turns out to be superior to us, I was fighting a lost battle. If I ever even tried to teach him the answer to a simple question like “What is your name?” as “My name is Tuneer Banerjee.”, it would be met with protests about how I was creating unnecessary pressure on the child. Their preferred answer was always his full name only since no child was expected to answer in sentences. Though I had the sympathy of the paternal grandmother, the maternal grandmother had no way of communicating her opinion from her heavenly abode.
All hell broke loose when an acquaintance of Sr. T told him that his particular school was very strict about English being the only medium of interview or interaction, as schools prefer to call it these days. His daughter was a student in the primary section and a couple of sample questions that he mentioned definitely seemed a little too tough for a three-year-old. Adding to that was the fact they never translated any question in Bengali or Hindi even if the child failed to understand it. And when the child answered, it had to be in English as well. I can only guess they go by the logic that if one is looking for an admission in an English medium school, he/she should start speaking the language ever since they start uttering words.
Of all the family members, my father-in-law was the one who was hugely furious with this particular school. His reaction went from disbelief (‘that’s simply not possible’) to anger (‘how illogical can they be!’_). My father, on the other hand, had a simple suggestion – ‘go for the experience but don’t get him enrolled here.’ But as enthusiastic first-time parents, we started working on his mode of communication with the support of his play school. The child was super confused to see the daily ritual of his grandparents calling out “uthe poro”(get up) being replaced by “good morning.” Now he didn’t have the luxury to say goru, kukur, and chagol when the respective animals were pointed out to him. Instead, he was expected to say cow, dog, and goat. Twinkle, twinkle little star was music to our ears while aata gache tota pakhi (a Bengali rhyme) was temporarily banned.
In this entire phase of the struggle towards transformation, one individual who was quite happy with this change was Tuneer’s preschool class teacher. Until then, whenever she pointed out his refusal to speak words in English, Sr. T would always defend our son stating “Ma’am, he will learn eventually.” Now it was our turn to keep asking her about his progress in this learning phase because we barely had two months to familiarize this boy with a few selective English words. Talk about a twist in the tale!
The boy, who seems to have taken after his father in terms of ensuring that they leave no stone unturned to annoy me turned out to be smarter than expected. While we tried to teach him a few common words, he decided to be more selective and learn only those words that he liked. While he had no qualms in stating his father’s full name correctly, his response to “what is your mother’s name?” was always met with a naughty grin and the word ‘mummum.’ At times, he kindly added the surname but it never went from Mummum to Sonia. Not even when he was asked this question by the interviewer in the same school. No amount of cajoling, scolding or chocolates managed to get the correct answer out of his mouth for reasons best known to him.
After the first experience of this interview, I realized that the only way to make peace with this tiny creature was to let him speak words in both the languages. So, his response to his name now sounded like “Amar Naam Tuneer Banerjee” followed by the translation “My name is Tuneer Banerjee.” I was hoping that with this deal, he would at least start answering my name correctly. As luck would have it, the question related to his mother’s name was never asked in any other school interview. Which means it had become a win-lose situation for us with the boy winning this round hands down.
I hope you liked reading about B or my son’s love towards the language Bangla. Stay tuned to know what is C going to be about as I come up with a fresh post tomorrow.