“Why do you want to learn Spanish?” a proud Catalan from northern Spain, Aina began every new foreign language session thus.
The heterogeneous group of students responded tentatively, brought up in an education system that frowned upon overreaching authority, especially a foreign one! Contrary to their diffident words however, their bodies shouted defensively and unconsciously “My country may be overrun with squalor and poverty, but we have unmatched diversity.”
At most times politically correct, the classroom air in the Spanish Cultural Centre stopped short of turning adversarial on the odd day. “When the Spaniards return home from India, they begin to appreciate what they have much more…cleaner air, traffic free roads, gender equality, less poverty!” subtlety was certainly not Aina’s middle name. Most of her listeners half nodded sheepishly but not Harman Singh, “Oh no!” he was prompt with his reactions, “We share some similarities too! I believe the only thing that starts on time in Spain is a bull-fight. That makes them as much of laggards as us Indians!”
With eight years of teaching behind her, Aina well knew how to wither upstarts in her class. She was particularly sensitive to her pupils having fun at her expense, as a group. The Indians rarely united enough to do that given their genetic insecurity but there was one time! They were to identify pictures of toiletries, “Tooth brush, comb, shampoo: cepillo de dientes, peine, champú.” Champú! Champú!! Champú!!! Quivering with glee, Harman turned to his group, “Champu kahin ke!” The room went into strangled convulsions of mirth.
Nowhere was this cultural bandying as stark as during the term test. “I know you Indians. Please spread out, one on each table. No copying from each other please.” Used to being spoken down to, the examinees would smile weakly through her objections, “How can you guess mark answers, it is cheating, if you don’t know, you don’t know. We don’t do that in our country.”
Severely handicapped in sessions that did not brook any language other than Spanish, the Indians were cavalier in their treatment of the centre’s resources. They maximized on the air conditioning and went poking every plug point with their smartphone chargers.
“In India, you make lesser money and die sooner.” Aina would compare.
“Our favourite food is channa bhatura, not pig’s tails and bull’s testicles!” Herman was game.
The classes used multi-media and a communicative approach to keep the teacher and taught speeding through the sixty hours of basic level. With the term end exam upon them, Aina’s brief to her students was succinct, “There will be four sections: lectura, comprensión, gramática and examen oral, I will email you all the exact format this evening.”
When Harman got home from his dawdle around the Connaught Place to log into his email that day, there it was the yellow icon from their profesora. He clicked on the envelope, skimmed and scrolled down in a rush, frowning.
It was a forward, the original having been written by one Sandeep Singh Khalsa. The bold heading read, “Sovereignty for Catalan and Khalistan: Separatism by choice!” There was a link to the operation Bluestar.