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One of the first ‘demands’ of parents of the slum where we began our work way back in 2000 was to teach their children English! Somehow these illiterate parents knew intuitively that knowing English would give their children a better start in life. We heeded to their request and as you well know by now the first ‘centre’ that we opened was a spoken English class that catered to about 40 students of all ages. I must say with some amount of pride that a large chunk of our first band speak good English and are gainfully employed. In those days classes were taken by a group of volunteers from the other side of the fence and thus their English was to say the least spot on!

Over the years Project Why mutated into a after school support operation and a well thought model was evolved that was based on employing local talent, thus people from the other side of the fence. Our mission was to ensure good results in school and contain drop outs. The space for English was thus restricted. International volunteers were assigned that task it was quasi impossible to find people who spoke good English willing to work at salaries we offered and in the conditions we worked in. In spite of this, our children are quite proficient in the language.

That English gives you a better start in life is a reality we are all aware of. However today’s blog is about how little knowledge of the language can land you in big trouble. There was a news item is yesterday’s paper that illustrates perfectly what I am trying to say. Here is an abridged version of the tale. Two young girls were carrying raw meat in their bag, probably their dinner. They were stopped by the officer in charge of the scanner. A journo decided to intervene and ask why meat that was neatly packed could not be carried in the metro. The man said it was a banned item and showed him a list of banned items pointing at the item: meat cleaver. The journo tried to explain that meat and meat cleaver were two different things but the man would not hear anything. The matter was taken to a superior and the girls were allowed in. However the man was still insisting he was right and the matter got out of hand with the poor journo being roughed up!

My first reaction was how come a meat cleaver appeared on the list of banned items. I guess it must be a lost borrowed from another country. And I agree that meat cleavers should not be allowed. But what this incident shows is that little knowledge is dangerous. The person manning the scanner did know the word ‘meat’ but had no idea of what a cleaver was. I do agree that ‘cleaver’ is not a word that appears in school books frequently but then I think the staff has to be trained and shown what the banned items are, or maybe one should add a picture of the items to overcome language inadequacies.

I felt sorry for the poor journo who was being gallant and a good Samaritan, but the incident brought a smile on my face and the inevitable reaction on the stupidity of the administration.

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To the manor born