I was one of those last batches from school that did not have to take Hindi for my school final examination. I did English and French, having spent a few years toying with Latin, and having given up Marathi and Hindi as bad jokes.
When I joined Stephen's, Mr. Arya was quick to catch hold of me to impress on me that I had to pass the Compulsory Hindi examination if I wanted to get my final degree. I did not take him very seriously when I heard I could try to get through twice a year in all my three years. I was supremely confident that I would get those 35% sometime during that long stint in the college.
I did make an effort by attending Mr. Arya's lectures a couple of times, but besides getting through the alphabet, I do not think I got much further, despite all the help given to me by my friends. I learnt to speak a corrupt form of Hindi, mixed with Punjabi swear words during my time in college!!
I faithfully sat the exam each year, and faithfully failed it. Of course, during the last year I just did not have much time, as Physics, Chemistry and Maths were giving me enough trouble.
When I finished my final exam in May 1963, I called on Principal Sircar. It was then it dawned on me that even if I got through my degree I was unlikely to be awarded the degree till I passed my Hindi test, and if my plans to go to England to specialise in Plastics was to materialise, I just had a couple of months to learn a language and pass an exam I had flunked four times in the previous 3 years.
As soon as I reached Bombay I decided to solve my dilemma. I located a young Hindi teacher, Mr. Laxman, who was quite different from the usual mould. He promised to sit with me day and night, if necessary. His method was quite unique as he came to the classes with nothing but the Navbharat Times, knowing that I had read the Times of India early morning. With that background he got me to read the editorial, which was about the same as in the English edition, and in absolutely difficult Hindi.
At first it seemed gibberish, but having understood the English editorial a few hours earlier, within a couple of weeks I was quite enjoying reading the Hindi editorial, the references to the Dictionary gradually decreasing. Within 4 weeks I was managing the editorial on my own and even composing a couple of decent Hindi sentences.
I went to Delhi full of confidence in early September and when Mr. Arya met me he seemed confident that now, at least, I would get through. Sure enough, I passed with flying colours. I had already joined the University in England when the results came through and I felt more chuffed at having passed the Hindi exam than actually having passed my major subjects.
I think the trouble I had with Hindi was equivalent to a couple of my classmates who struggled with English - if I remember correctly they were from Modern School in Delhi, and although they could speak English as well as I could converse in Hindi, they were just as word blind as far as English was concerned as I was word blind to Hindi. Poor Rev. Jarvis used to go crazy trying to teach those guys just enough of English to pass the exam.
I wonder if these language exams are still part of the present system?
Editor Jacob Matthan