'Chippa' transforms grammar class

 In fact, the children in the room were beginning to grow restless. Here’s why.

A stranger was sitting next to the teacher. He looked so much like Mahatma Gandhi, with his spectacles and beautiful smile. Who could he be? And why was he in their class?

The teacher soon introduced him to the children. “This is my chikkappa, my father’s younger brother. I call him Chippa.  He lives in a small village and is interested in improving his English. Today, he is going to talk to you in English. Any grammatical errors in the conversation should be corrected. That will be our learning activity for today. You could address him as Ajja or Chippa,” said the teacher.
All the kids cheered.

“Good evening! First, I should apologise for coming a little latish to your class,” Chippa beamed at the kids. His hesitant manner and his warm smile made everyone love him at once.

“Is ‘latish’ a word in English? I have never heard it used before,” little Sunita looked at the teacher for help.

“Yes, it means ‘somewhat late’. It can be used as an adjective or adverb,” the teacher explained. “As he was delayed by heavy traffic, we started our class 10 minutes later than usual.”

“How are you, Ajja?” It was talkative Sumeet who played ice-breaker!
“I’m nice,” Chippa answered.

“Here, it should be ‘fine’ or ‘good’, not ‘nice’. It is a very common mistake.”
Chippa smiled and said, “I’m fine. Thank you!”
“When you came from your village?” asked little Preeta.

“It should be ‘When did you come from your village?’ In this kind of question it’s always the helping verb which comes before the main verb,” Rachna corrected Preeta very politely.

“I came just a few minutes ago. I’m happy to be here with all of you,” Chippa said. His face was, indeed, glowing with happiness.

“What is your favourite breakfast?” he asked the students.  Now it was the kids’ turn to answer. They were very enthusiastic and quick to list the mouth-watering snacks they loved.

“I like idli very much. I love coconut chatni to idli,” Chippa said. “You mean you love coconut chatni with idli?” Abhimanyu said. “Yes, with idli,” Chippa repeated with a sparkle in his eyes.

It was amazing to see him stay calm while every one in  class was trying to find mistakes with what he was saying!

“Your spectacles are like Gandhi thaatha’s. May I see them?” It was Charitra.
Handing the spectacles to her, Chippa told the class how excited he had been to meet Mahatma Gandhi as a little boy during the freedom struggle. He said he had loved Gandhi’s spectacles and got a similar pair made when he needed to wear glasses himself.

Charitra passed around his spectacles for everyone to have a look.
“I have never stayed in any village. I have only seen villages while travelling by bus. Is it dangerous at nights when there is no electricity,” a little boy asked.

“Not really. In fact, it is so wonderfully clear that you can see so many stars up in the sky. I can actually show you some of the well-known constellations very clearly,” Chippa said, excited to talk about his village.

In no time, the kids crowded around him, firing a volley of questions. “There is only one main road that goes through our village and there are two small lanes. My house is in the main road,” Chippa continued.

“Not ‘in the main road’ Ajja. You should say ‘on the main road’,” someone interrupted him softly.

Every time one of the kids corrected him, Chippa repeated the corrected version of the sentence, toothless smile intact!  “How many people do you have in your family?”

“I am a bachelor. I don’t have a family of my own and I live alone in my village. I do have an elder brother who lives in Chitradurga with his family,” Chippa replied.
“Don’t you feel lonely?” 

“No. Back home, all the villagers are my friends. My cow, my dog and my farm are my friends too. I love my village, my farm and everything there. When I need something that is not available in my village, I come here to shop. That gives me an opportunity to visit my relatives too.”

Chippa didn’t sound lonesome in the least.

Soon, the whole class was engrossed in the enchanting details of Chippa’s village, his farm and his garden with roses, jasmine, chrysanthemums and marigolds.

They almost heard all the birds he named that visited his farm, including peacocks and peahens. They felt as if they were among the white rabbits with perky ears! Chippa also invited them to his village.

The children climbed the mango trees, drank the tender coconut water and brought home some papayas… in their imagination!

They didn’t notice the teacher slipping out of the room.

They didn’t even remember that they were supposed to find and correct Chippa’s mistakes!

Suddenly, they heard the sound of breaking glass. Someone dropped Chippa’s spectacles! All the kids held their breath, expecting him to lose his temper and shout. Champa and her brother, who had dropped the spectacles while playing with them, were shocked to see the damage. 

Fearing the consequences both started crying. “That’s all right.  I’m sure neither of you wanted to break it; it was accidental. I should have warned you to be careful in handling my spectacles because they are made of glass,” Chippa said, gently.

He behaved as if it was his mistake! His composure, even after losing his spectacles without which he could not see properly, was unbelievable.  It made Champa wipe her tears and say, “Sorry! We should have been more careful. Please forgive us.”

Chippa had not only played the role of a substitute teacher, but also set an example for the children on how to establish harmonious and friendly relationships with everyone and everything.

“My niece talked about this voluntary class every time we met. Now I know why she enjoys teaching this class; you are all such nice kids,” Chippa said. He made the kids feel proud of their class. No wonder they are waiting eagerly for Chippa’s next visit!

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