The ‘Can-Can’ spirit

The ‘Can-Can’ spirit


Representative image.

Recently, I was invited as the chief guest to a school function in rural Haryana. The principal was a self-made man who had studied in the same village and had gone on to complete his post-graduation. He then started this school in his ancestral two-acre plot. The school now had over a thousand students. 

The principal impressed me with his bubbling energy and innovative ideas. He shared his view that children from rural background lost out in today’s highly competitive environment, mainly because they were shy to speak English. He told me about employing a special team to overcome this shortcoming.  

The students staged an impressive cultural programme; a mix of songs, dance and bilingual skits. Considering that they had conceptualised the theme independently and chosen the content, the display was doubly significant. As in many other similar programmes in Haryana these days, girl performers outnumbered the boys. 

The student emcee invited the English experts’ team on stage. Five smart, black-suited individuals in their mid-twenties walked up and bowed to enthusiastic applause. The only girl in the team stood in the centre. “Hello”, she began, “The principal have a vizzan which we sare. We will make it success. When we started three months back, English was not coming to many of you. Very early you will talk angrezi like the angrez.” The wrinkly faces of grandparents lit up with pride.  They didn’t understand the words, but they clearly grasped the message.

She was not in the least conscious of how she spoke. Her self-confidence was infectious.  The vice-principal thereafter climbed the stage and exhorted the assemblage, “Please make a clap for the team.” There was loud applause but not up to his satisfaction. “Please clap more noisily,” he ordered

My first thought was of dismay. But as the evening wore on, the misgivings vanished. I began to see the positive side. The purpose of a language, I realised, is to convey one’s message without ambiguity. Words are only means to an end.  I think the biggest achievement by the principal was getting the students to come out of their shells. That outcome was clearly discernible. It didn’t matter what and how they spoke, the important thing was that the students spoke English without inhibition.  Refining the language is a continuous process and can follow. The ‘English’ team deserved to be complimented. 

I was mulling over a suitably encouraging manner in which to convey my appreciation.

The scene from the film ‘Can Can’ suddenly came to mind. A lady, who had vehemently opposed the risqué French ‘Can-Can’ dance of 1840s, was advised to see it first.  After watching the lively high-kicking dance, when asked again if she wanted to ban it, her response was emphatic,“Ban it? I want to learn it.” I got my clue.

In my remarks, while addressing the team I said, “Very thanks to you. You have really made the students shameless in speaking English.”

The applause was deafening. 


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