Point to Ponder: You cannot really shame a man who sincerely does not care what others think of him. -Mokokoma Mokhonoana (………Or who does not understand what humiliation means)
Story Line: In early seventies, this fellow I know transferred from University in his state to a prestigious Bombay University for the Junior year of college. To his additional joy, he was admitted into the most prestigious Institute amongst many good college options that were available within the Bombay University.
Now the place he came from was not ranked very high amongst Indian Universities. Also the normal medium of communication where he came from was in the regional language except for science and math classes. Bottom Line: He could converse in English, could handle English of science and math classes, but otherwise his vocabulary and written communication were not so good.
In the second week in the institute, he missed the Physics class due to illness. When he returned, he wrote a courtesy note to the professor explaining his absence. He apologized for missing the class previous week and explained the reason: “because I was attacked by Flu.”
The following week some fellow students asked him if he had seen the Institute’s main notice board outside the office of the Director. To his surprise he found his note to the Physics Professor Posted on the notice board with a note from the Director, “This is the level of English from an A (first class) student from Gujarat University.” It was written in big red letters with an arrow pointing to the sentence that said “Because I was attacked by Flu.” Additionally he found an invitation in his mail box from the director. The director said many things but the relevant thing the fellow extracted from a long lecture was that he would need to work extra hard (Improvement Required) to even make it to through the first year.
But that is not this story is about. In two weeks since that incident, almost every student in that small institute knew this new fellow. And to his surprise many approached him, offered help, asked him to join them in cafeteria and introduced him to their circle of friends.
Not a single student made him feel less because of his poor English. For a longtime until they became close, no one brought up what was posted on the Institute’s notice board; and when some did, it was to express their displeasure with the intention of the director. In all honesty, that fellow from Gujarat University was naïve (some may call it dumb) and had not understood the humiliation aspect. He at the time had thought it was a normal procedure for the Institute.
The bright side is that he made many friends in a short time. There are many stories of those memorable two years in the institute. One person in particular, Arun, took him in his inner circle and they helped him integrate in to the life in Bombay. Forty five years later, they all are still good friends.
And it is all started with that letter.
Epilogue: This story often came to my mind during my encounters with Japanese suppliers during early years in Industry. Everytime I visited one supplier, the marketing guy will apologize for his poor English before starting his presentation. When it came to their chief technologist’s turn, he too would get up and apologize for his poor English before going into details. Not once we had trouble understanding or communicating with them. Just for the records, the second person’s discoveries were well known around the world and he was invited to speak at many worldwide conferences; In English Of course. At dinner time in lighter moments I used to remind them of my story and joke “Improvement Required (IR)” but there were no Notice Board postings.
(To The Readers: I am aware I am still IR for my English. I gladly accept and working on it.)