I was just calculating my days spent in Maharashtra. Three years in NDA, Khadakwasla, one odd year of my Mech YOs (Young Officer’s Course) and Radio Course in Ahmednagar and then after retirement it has been eleven years I have been drinking Marathi pani. How come I could not pick up this language? Suffice to say, I understand it very well but I am not comfortable speaking it.
In my first term at NDA, I did not know what speak meant. In my second and third term no one let me speak, I only heard choicest adjectives being hurled at me. In my fourth term I could barely open my mouth to speak. In my fifth term I spoke what I had heard in second and third terms. In my sixth term I only spoke to practice my word of command in the bathroom. Besides “oye patilya, kaye re”. All the Joshi’s & Pawar’s used to wonder why I address them as Patilya, as I always thought that’s how you respectfully address a “taant”.
My second encounter with taant’s was when I met a unique family called “Camble” from Kohlapur. Well they were actually Kamble’s. My Sali ji was getting married to Sir Kamble and I was in charge of looking after them. So like a well groomed Liaison Officer of my battalion, I walked up to the would be mother in law before she retired for the night and asked her, auntie what would you like to have for breakfast? She said “supperchand”. Now my brains got shot circuited and I rushed back home repeating this word, lest I forget. Our whole family shook their heads, as none could decipher what missile she was referring to. I mustered some courage and walked up to the elder brother of the groom and hesitantly asked him what supperchand means. He coolly said A for apple. My foot I murmured & got back home, asked father in law to join me for a drink. We had two quick tots and went to the railway station, as at that unearthly hour the only place to find this fruit was the station and bought two kilograms of supperchand.
I was travelling to this place where I am working now, for my interview. This being a remote place we kept asking for directions. Everyone just said “saral-saral”. I said yaar if it was so saral (easy) then why are we not reaching anywhere. After three hours plus finally I came to understand what this word meant, “keep going straight”. Some of them also said “pude” and “maghe”, they sounded very unfamiliar and I did not trust them. I was a quite sure when I reach saral I would be at my destination.
Now, about my knowledge of English; my name sounds English, though my mother tongue is Hindi. Punjabi I spoke fluently as I studied in Sainik School Kapurthala, Punjab. The English faculty of NDA put me in class 6 which is for weaklings because of the reputation of my school in English. Believe you me I failed in English and was about to be relegated. Our teacher was Mr Warriar with an A not with an O. The poem in the exam was BYZANTIUM by William Butler “Yeats”. I wrote to my dad to help me as this poem was beyond my comprehension. He told me to send the poem. In ten odd inland letters I copied the poem and in twenty odd envelopes he sent the detailed reference to context.
Mr Warriar being the officiating principal, used to sit near the most dreaded place called the centre dome of NDA. I had just visited the Com’s (Commandant’s) office close by and escaped relegation a few days back for discipline. It took me great courage to arrange a meeting with Mr Warriar. He dismissed me on seeing my face but my pleading eyes got the better of him. My head bobbed up and down like the “Hades’ Bobbin”. With great reluctance he offered me a seat and from my KDs (Khaki Dress) which could carry 40 toasts came out those 20 letters from a father to his son. He read each word and then got hold of my answer sheet. His only anger was I had not written a single word he had taught. It was natural as I was never awake in his class. I had pasted my dad’s version verbatim. He asked me, what does your father do? I told him he was the HOD English of my school. My grade was changed from F to an A+. I visited the centre dome during my course get together after thirty odd years recently; my eyes went moist as I shouted Byzantium. The echo still reverberates in my mind.
Today a very funny incident happened. Someone came to our house and my wife asked the bai who is it. She could not trace anyone. Bai then went around the house and found that someone had left two gunny bags of manure. She came and told my wife that someone had got “Bomar”. My wife gave a blank look as she could not make head or tail. Ultimately our bai went out brought a dried piece of cow dung and said “Maveshi cha Potty”. My wife said Gobbar, she said hau bomar.
Be that as it may. Should I learn English first or Marathi? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!
This year some six lakh students skipped board exams in UP. The way they cheat khule aam is tauba-tauba. In Bihar I think assisting in cheating by climbing windows of multi storey buildings is a profession of sorts. It was nice to see students in chappals as I remember shoes could take on at least ten to twenty questions. If socks were taken into consideration then the complete exam could be managed unless you took the wrong subject notes. It reminded me of my days as a class ninth student.
In class ninth my Dad insisted that I must do “Punjab Matric” as it was called in those days. I was studying in a CBSE school then. He said that we all were going to stay in Punjab so a state degree would be instrumental in getting me a good job in Punjab Government. I had no choice and the more I resisted the more he got adamant. Once or twice I got a solid beating also for it.
Be that as it may, my first waterloo was arithmetic. As it is I was zero in maths. I got an MBD refresher from Vir di Hatti in Kapurthala. I can never forget the author; it was Barkat Ram Nair and sons. It had calculations like which day of the week was Gandhi ji born. It was Friday if I still remember it correctly, don’t ask me the formula please. Profit and loss, shares and debentures were bouncers for me. I was algebra kinds as somehow I used to find that notty fellow called ‘x’.
My second waterloo was the Punjabi itself. My Punjabi was half Hindi and half Punjabi. To ratto the Punjabi “kaida” of “oora-aira” took me some time. I used to get mixed up with “matras” and of course the alphabets. “pappa” and “dhadda”, “mamma” and “sassa”, they all looked the same. Well, now that my matriculation form had been filled there was no way out.
My third waterloo was history. From the battles of Panipat, to revolt of 1857, from Shivaji, to the East India Company and of course Akbar, Birbal, Humayun and who was whose son, it was beyond me. I had a lot of cramming capacity as I used to participate in declamations and plays. So the only option was to by heart the father, son and son of a gun.
Saving grace was English. For Punjabi’s English was like going to the gallows. I remember I used to take exams in the evening sessions as a private candidate. I had also the unique distinction of being the only English medium candidate in that centre. As luck would have it I had all girls around me. Well, when it came to the English exam I was kicked and nudged by this girl sitting behind. “Baau kuj taan das de” (Sir tell me something at least). The one on the left kept winking at me; each wink meant the question number. Where was Priya Prakash those days? The girl on the right kept tapping her pen and the one in front kept showing me fingers behind her neck, unfortunately she could not ask beyond question ten due to the limitation of the number of fingers.
The best part was that was the first time I saw where all ladies hide their “parchies”. Well, I don’t have to elaborate. I also came to learn where all they can write on their bodies, it was interesting. After the exam when one went to the toilet it appeared to be a “raddi ki dukan” with rolls and rolls of paper. As I later came to know that girls were striped to bare minimum to “excavate” their knowledge banks in form of chits.
Then came the maths exam and it was my turn to take favours. When I asked for the formula; they gave me the “faar-moolah”. I asked for the value of x they gave me back some “rakam”. Ede nal onu guna kar de, te ode naalon es nu manfi. I thought to myself if I got to fail I will fail myself and not take help from anyone to fail. And fail I did, I got a compartment in maths which I cleared subsequently.
Another funny thing my dad did was he wrote my date of birth as 1969 instead of 1963. Well, no one checked birth certificates then. The logic he gave was I will retire six years late. Good that I did not join “Gormint” of Punjab and my Sainik School mark sheet saw me through to NDA.
Indeed board exams are a nightmare for many. People claim they are double MAs etc but has any one of you done double matric? I have? Why did I do it? I still wonder!!!!!!!
© Noel Ellis