He sat amidst the squalor. His house, with asbestos sheets as its walls didn’t have any window. But the windows of his heart were always open. He wanted to learn and his mother encouraged him to do so. His house though small was no less than a museum. Drums of various sizes were properly arranged at the entrance. The plastic bottles were kept in a big net. The newspapers and magazines were the only things which were allowed inside the house not because they were special but they were likely to be damaged by rains or the dogs that fought for no reason in the night.
This is how his romance with the letters in the print started. He had been to a primary school where he learnt to read and write in Marathi. So he would pick up Marathi newspaper and magazine and read out the stories in it. His mother would stand akimbo and listen to him. He read about the Taj Mahal and the Marina beach and they visited both these places sitting on the words of print and using some imagination. Shankar’s reading had opened a new world to Gangubai. She had never heard these stories from anyone. The only stories she heard living in that ghetto were of women who were abused by their husbands and men who were drenched in liquor. His reading gave them a new purpose of life to both of them. They laughed together and tears voluntarily rolled down their eyes when they read a poignant tale.
‘Aai what if I could read those English magazines?’ Shankar asked one day. The English magazines always stood apart from their Marathi counterparts. Their pages were glossy and the men and women that featured in them appeared from another planet. Plus it contained pictures of foreign locations. ‘Wow, it would be indeed a great experience. I am all ears to hear those stories from English magazines. But will you please translate those stories for me in Marathi. You know I don’t know English.’ Gangubai told Shankar.
‘Aai where I know English?’ Shankar said and the dejected duo didn’t feel like reading anything that day.
Then one day Shankar’s eyes fell upon an advertisement in the newspaper. Just give a missed call on 8055667788 and learn English it said. Shankar borrowed his mother’s mobile phone. She worked as a domestic help and her employer had given her his old mobile phone so that he could contact her. Shankar called the number and life changed for good for both him and his mother. They never thought learning English was so easy. The first lesson they learnt over the phone from Shanti didi was when you meet you say Hi in English and when you leave you say Bye to each other. That day Shankar just stepped in and out of the house. The moment he entered he would say Gangubai Hi and before going out he would say Bye. Even Gangubai started exchanging Hi and Bye with him. Shanti didi kept on teaching them English over the phone. Shanti didi had turned English learning into a fun activity. Never before was learning English so easy for them. One step a day, they made considerable progress over a couple of months. Soon both of them began to read the English newspapers and magazines which they always wanted to read. Their joy knew no bounds. Who says only schools and colleges offer good education?
So if you have anyone around who wants to learn English please share this number 8055667788 and open the gateways to their learning.
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