Saturday, July 28, 2012

The English Teacher

The Sunday morning phone call was a mini-ritual in the Kulkarni household. The phone would ring. Shivaram Kulkarni, "English Master" to everyone besides family, would look up from his newspaper as his wife of 37 years would hurry to get the phone. He would watch his wife from behind the newspaper, pretending to be indifferent, secretly listening to various tidbits from their son Keerti's stay in London. The call would last a good half hour, ending with his wife reminding him to call again next week.

There must have been something different about this phone call though, because his usually cheerful wife was looking confused. The confused expression changed into apprehension, surprise and anger in quick succession. As she put the phone down, she turned towards him with a dazed expression. "Our son", she started to cry, "Our son is in love with some English girl. Why? Why?".

Kulkarni got up from his chair, leaving his sobbing wife sitting near the phone, and went into his study. Making sure that the door was closed, he opened his private cupboard - and smiled.

Unknown to everyone, even his wife of 37 years, Shivaram Kulkarni was an Anglophile.

His love of all things English had begun in school, blossomed in college, and grown into a full-time obsession by the age of 25. He was careful though, to keep it a secret - such thoughts were frowned upon in recently-independent India. His secret cupboard was a shrine to his passion - Newspaper clippings of the queen, an autographed photograph of Ian Botham, the Union Jack, all lined its spaces. It was his eternal lament that he was born in the wrong generation - His father could have served the British Raj as a clerk while his son was able to study in England.

Emily. That turned out to be the name of his future daughter-in-law. Emily, that very English of names, its very letters conjuring up a pale white Yorkshire lass. His wife, predictably, gave in to her son's wishes - the practical realities of estranging her only son didn't escape her. Kulkarni maintained a stoic demeanor, but inwardly he was brimming with joy - his son had done what he couldn't: become British.

News came that Keerti and Emily would visit them soon. Kulkarni was happy - he would finally get to meet  an Englishwoman. He imagined having cultured conversations with her, speaking about such varied topics as the weather and Wimbledon. He read books, from Forster to Forrestor, lest he came across as uncultured.

The day finally came. "Too tan", was Kulkarni's first impression of her, "but passably English". "Namaskar", she greeted him and his wife. "How was the flight"? "It could of been better - it was literally a thousand hours long", she laughed. Kulkarni grimaced - "could have" he corrected. "Did the holiday season make catching the flight more difficult?", he asked. "Nah, Heathrow is busy irregardless of season". "You mean regardless". "Yeah, same thing".

The trend continued throughout her visit. Kulkarni couldn't believe a native of England could butcher the language so badly. "Who" instead of "whom", "then"/"than", "what"/"that" - The final straw was Emily saying "LOL" at some joke Keerti made - Kulkarni had given her an earful that day.

A few days after the visit, a dejected Keerti called to say that he and Emily broke up. She couldn't bear joining a family where her father-in-law was such a grammar Nazi, she had said. Kulkarni's wife was more than happy to send marriage proposals his way - nice Kannada girls, of course.

As he sat in his chair, Kulkarni realized the irony of the whole affair - his love of English was what drove his son's one chance at Englishness away.


The God Of Tall Things said...

To the Anonymous whose comment got deleted:

"I'd be interested in knowing what absurdity / absurd idea / absurd thought ... motivated you to write this.

don't get me wrong... its a cute lil story... but its really surprisingly unexpected... even though I have read your other posts

I don't like the way I ended the story, but my created juices ran out. The core concept was the absurdity of some Indians being such fanatics about English grammar, while most of the British youth themselves speak incorrectly.

Parth said...

Do all quizzers in the Seattle-area quizzers blog? You, me, and a bunch of others are realizing that hypothesis. We should add links to each other's blog - quizzers club solidarity and all!