Ramu is our city boy. His friends nicknamed him as a question beach. Just like the way waves in the sea beach, just like that, he keeps on asking questions. He studies at Raja Ramanna High School. It was established by our great nuclear scientist of India, Dr. Raja Ramanna, in Vizag. In the school, Ramu likes Saraswathi madam. Most of the other teachers always end the conversation with something like this, “Ramu, why don’t you first complete the work given. Later we can go into these questions”. Ramu was always disappointed with this response. His mind is bubbling with questions.
Saraswathi madam does not come to his class. One day he was dragging his feet with a disappointed face and coming to school. Saraswathi madam asks, “Hi, what’s your name?”. “I am Ramu?”. “Are you feeling well?”. “Yes, I am” in a lifeless voice. “Why are you like, lifeless?”. I get a lot of questions on every subject I read. But no one is interested in answering my questions. My teachers gave a complaint that I have some problem with my mind. Yesterday evening, my parents took me to a physiatrist. “I am thinking, what is the problem with my mind?”. “Ok, Ramu, can we meet in the library hour? I am interested in your questions”. His face was glowing. He saw for the first time in his life, who is interested in his questions.
In the evening he went to the library. Madam was sitting in a corner, reading a book titled ‘The power of I don’t know.’ Ramu wished, “Good evening, madam.” “Aah, Ramu, I was waiting for you, let’s go out.” Both of them went and sat under the pipal tree in the ground. Children are playing on the ground.
Today my English teacher scolded me. What did you do? I asked why are A B C D… in this specific order? Why are they not in any other order? Saraswathi madam thought for a while and said, “ I also don’t know, let’s work together.” Ramu was shocked, listening to these words from Saraswathi madam. I also don’t know.
Don’t worry, Ramu, we both can find the answer together. Tell me, Ramu, what is the origin of all languages? I don’t know, madam. Ok, let me ask, who created the English language? Ramu quickly responded, my English madam Sumathi. Is it? Ok, how old is your Sumathi mam? She is around 30 years. Ohk, I got it, madam, it’s not Sumathi mam, it’s my Principal sir has created. He is also an excellent English teacher. Ok, how old is he? He is for 60 years. Are there any English books written 60 years back, i.e., before 1960? He thought for a while then said. “aah! In my social studies class,” our Indian constitution book was written in 1950 and it is written in English. They continued the discussion for a while and decided, they will explore further. They wanted to explore these questions. How are different languages evolved? Let’s take our mother-tongue and English. A language contains a script, a sound and the people who used it and evolved it.
The next day Ramu came to school with excitement and said to Saraswathi mam. Madam, yesterday I talked to my grandfather, Sampadananda Mishra, who lives is in Bhuvaneshwar. He is a Sanskrit Scholar and Astrologer. He told me that he doesn’t know about English, but in Sanskrit and Odia, the alphabets are ordered like ka kha ga gha…. ka, cha, ta, tha, pa. He also said that these are created systematically. (Expand the story here by giving examples and make audience pronounce). Vowels and Consonants. Saraswathi mam said, “Which is the same in most Indian languages like Telugu, Hindi and other languages. Let’s explore further Ramu, talk to your grandfather and get more information about it.”
Madam, why do we have different ways of pronouncing English words, such as alphabet ‘A’ in an apple, an airplane is different. And sometimes, some alphabets are silent. Why are they so? Madam, is Sanskrit really a beautiful language? Why is it not used now?
Saraswathi madam saw Ramu was jumping to new questions now and said, “Ramu, it ok to have enthusiasm, but we need to have an inquiry mindset.” So let’s follow this process. Let’s keep a log and write down the questions that we have yet to find answers for.
“Why are ABCD in this order, why not any other order?”
The next day Saraswathi mam told Ramu that she talked to her brother, who is working in software development. He works on text to speech and speech to text software. You can say “Hey Siri” or “Ok Google” and ask it to do things. So essentially, it is capturing the sound and converting into text. Madam doesn’t want to tell the answers. She wants to play with questions so that the new information is linked with the existing models of knowledge in Ramu’s mind.
Ok Ramu, did you see the words in the dictionary? What does it contain? It contains a verb, noun. What else? Example usages. What else? Pronunciation? How is pronunciation written in the dictionary? It’s the phonetic way of writing. They have along with ABCD, another set of alphabets to represent pronunciation. They are a combination of the alphabet from 26 alphabets with some dots or dash or other symbols above and bellow. Try playing with the keyboard on your father’s phone. When you press and hold on the alphabet for a long time, you can see these.
Madam, but in both of our mother-tongue languages, we have one set of alphabets to represent both. Saraswathi mam says, “Yes, your observation is correct, Ramu. That is why they are called the phonetic language.”
The next day, when he comes to school. Madam, yesterday while playing with the keyboard on iPhone, I found that the a, e, i, o, u, the vowels have lots of combinations. But the rest of the alphabets like few c, s, z have some combinations, rest does not have any. Why is it so? Saraswathi mam said, “I also don’t know, let’s explore together and find it out.” He smiled. Now he is so much habituated to this response of I also don’t know.
Ramu said, “Why did they have these complex notation in English phonetics? Why can they not have defined the alphabets like our languages.” Saraswathi mam said, “I don’t know.” He smiled. They both started exploring.
Ramu just dreams what if every teacher in my school is like Saraswathi madam. He realizes that school buildings are less of a priority than having teachers like Saraswathi mam. He takes a vow that in his life, he will establish a school where all teachers are like Saraswathi mam.
Their exploration continues. We will continue the story with what Saraswathi mam and Ramu explored next week.
This story is written for school going children.