Saturday, June 12, 2010

Story Telling Project 2 - The Turning Point

You have to be a good English speaker in this globalized world!
The very fact that all of you have taken time to come to this meeting shows that you all agree with me.
There was a time when I could not even speak one sentence in English fluently and correctly.
And then I met someone and the things became better. No he was not a Toastmaster, trying to recruit me in his club!

I have to go back in time in early 70s when as a 10 year old boy I was growing up in a small town in Bihar, where my dad worked as an engineer.
Though I studied English at school, I was not at all fluent in speaking it. I used to speak in Hindi with my siblings and friends. I did not know even my mother tongue Tamil properly. This did not gel well with my dad. So one day he told me "I have nothing against Hindi. But when you talk to me and your mother, you should speak in Tamil only!”
So my mother tongue got its due and I picked up a fairly passable Tamil.
But where was the "poor English" in the scheme of things? It was still lying neglected in my tongue space while I graduated to real colloquial Hindi as it is spoken in Bihar.

One fine day, a business delegation from England visited my father’s office. A dinner was organized for the delegates in the Company Clubhouse. Around this time I had just got interested in cricket, so my dad told me that there was a cricket player among the delegates.
I asked," Appa, can I also come with you? I want to meet the cricketer and take his autograph. ““No! Absolutely not! Kids are not invited", said my father and left.

A couple of hours later, he gave me a call and said. "If you want to come, come immediately. The dinner is over and everyone is going to leave soon.” My dad was always like that. Whenever I used to ask something from him, his first reaction was always NO. But soon he would have a change of heart and would do whatever I had asked for.

So flushed with excitement, I dressed hurriedly, grabbed the autograph book and rushed to the club. When I reached there I found a gentleman in his late fifties about to get inside a black Ambassador car. He would have left earlier. But my dad had requested him to wait for few more minutes and he was very kind enough to oblige. "The boy has come", said my dad and nudged me towards him. This was the first time I had seen a foreigner. I was awe-struck by his glowing fair skin and sparkling light-grey eyes. Nervously I shook his hands and held out my autograph book. He asked me in a typical British accent, "Well young boy, how are you doing?” It was like a bouncer that just went over my head. I could not make head or tail out of what he was saying. I just blinked. I asked him to repeat what he said. Nothing wrong in it, except for the fact that I had blurted my request in typical Bihari Hindi, “Hum samjhe nahin. Phir se boliye! “(I don’t understand. Could you please repeat?). Now it was the Englishman who blinked and looked confused.

My poor dad! He was highly embarrassed at my inability to communicate in English.
He told me, “You will get nowhere if I continue sending you to the local school. You have to speak better English if you want to have a successful career".
And within a couple of years, he packed me off to a one of the best public schools in Bihar. It was expensive, but he did not mind that. My dad was prepared to undergo hardships in the best interests of his son.

By the time I passed out of the public school, I was able to converse fluently in English. This enabled me to effectively interact in my career with my colleagues and customers from different countries through the global lingua franca English.

Sometimes I wonder how different things would have been if I had not met Sir Leonard Hutton that day. Yes, the man I had met was Sir Leonard Hutton. He was one of the best Test players in English cricket history. He once held the record of highest individual test score of 364. He was also the first professional cricketer to captain England.

The cricketing world may remember him for these achievements, but I would always remember him as a person who was kind enough to wait for me and indirectly instrumental in my improved spoken English.
[Date Delivered:  June 5 2010

  • To learn the elements of a good story.
  • To create and tell an original story based on a personal experience
Time: Six to eight  minutes.

This speech is based on a real incident, though as per the guidelines of the project manual I have spiced it up with imaginary dialogues and vivid descriptions (Reality was not that colorful !).
The plain facts are as follows. I did grew up in Bihar speaking in Hindi most of the time and could not speak English fluently. And I did meet Sir Len Hutton and took his autograph (unfortunately I have lost it) as narrated in the speech. But the actual question which he asked was "Where should I sign ?". I replied in Bihari Hindi "Kya Cheez ? (What ?)". 

Just couple of years before I met  Sir Len Hutton, Indian cricket teams'  magnificent test series win over England had got me interested in cricket. In that series Sir Len Hutton' s son Richard Hutton had played for England. So I wanted to meet Sir Len Hutton because he was Richard Hutton's father ! I had no clue that he was such a distinguished cricketer, though I knew that he was an ex-Test cricketer.
It is also to a great extent true that my inability to communicate in English with Sir Len Hutton was one of the factors  which made my dad to consider changing my school.
Sir Len Hutton  passed away in 1990.

I have realistically portrayed my dad in this speech and the evaluator commented that his character came out well during my speech.
My dad is no more. He passed away when I was eighteen, while I was in my second year of engineering studies. I remembered my days with  him, while delivering the speech and was almost choked with emotion when I came to the following portions in the speech
a)" My dad was always like that. Whenever I used to ask something from him, his first reaction was always NO. But soon he would have a change of heart and would do whatever I had asked for."
b) "My dad was prepared to undergo hardships in the best interests of his son"
Appa, I still miss you  though it is  nearly thirty years now since you departed ! 

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