I am a research scholar at the Central University, Hyderabad and live on a beautiful campus, where everything seems perfect to me. Well, almost perfect, until I begin to have a conversation in English with a friend or with a member of the faculty. I wonder why every time I begin to have that conversation in ‘English’, I falter: the right words fail me when I need them the most! And every time this happens, my memory goes back to that unforgettable July day in the summer of 2003…
In a small hall drenched by the bright light of the sun filtering through the curtain, I awaited my turn to have an audience with the headmaster of the school. This time, it was not for the usual punishment; I was meeting my ex-teacher in my old school!
My turn came as soon as a parent crossed the threshold of the Headmaster’s room, perhaps having dealt with another case of a mischievous child on the run. But as I brushed my musings aside and turned towards his room, nervousness gripped me…
“Eerr… ummmm” (I was sweating profusely – well of course – blame it on the infamous Dimapurian humidity. [Dimapur is in Assam])… I managed to address him with a feverish grin, “… May… may… I… I come in … sss… SIR?”
“Ah, my old mischievous boy! I am glad to see you,” boomed the Headmaster. “I hope you are not here for another round of mischief… punishments have improved lately, my boy. Ha, ha! Effective ones I should say… no pain involved, just puuurrreee guilt, just enough to bring you back on track… Ah! thanks to the innovative teaching methods, corporal is out, my boy. Good news, nah? You wish to be back in school again, don’t you? Well, anyway let me hear from your end, my boy…”
And just as I made an effort to answer: “I… aaa…” I was flooded by a volley of questions – “How was your trip back home? How is your institute? How about your teachers? Any plans for research?” Blah, blah, and more blah…!”
The rest of our meeting was history! Much to the amusement of the Head, our eventful reunion was marked by numerous “eerrs” and “ummmms”. I could see his silent grins when I made the effort to converse sensibly.
Our reunion drew to an end, and as I walked out, the Head uttered his parting shot, “It’s a big world boy, make the most of it… you’ve got more than you have right now.”
I came out of his room bamboozled, but wiser. I learnt an important lesson; ‘silence’ may be ‘golden’, but not always! Conversation is an important human interactive art; I was well versed when it came to speaking on my subject-matter. However when it came to ‘speaking’ or ‘conversing,’ I felt terribly suffocated. I was tongue-tied in most instances, the more I made an effort to speak, the more I stammered!
I was seriously asking myself as I walked out of the school, “Is my speech selective to subject-matter, or is it the reaction to situations that determine my speech blues?” Though the answer may lie anywhere at any stage of our lives, in my case, I realised that I had faithfully adhered to ‘Omerta’ (the Sicilian code of silence), with the self-assurance that ‘equipping yourself in writing skills and your subject-matter is more than enough.’
That, I am sure, was where I missed out on an important aspect; ‘speaking’ or ‘conversing,’ an area I thought was of no importance to me. However, experiences down the stammering years affirm that ‘conversing’ is as important as writing or any form of communication.
They say that a skill is not only intuitive or acquired, but it also needs nurturing for an individual to sustain it. If only I could revisit school days and pick up on those debates, extempore, book reading sessions, discussions and jabbering with my old friends; if only I had heeded my teachers’ encouragement to actively participate in these, I know they could have given me something more that I am struggling with–good conversation skills, one of the important keys to human communication.
The writer is a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad. Email: [email protected].