Nearly four decades ago, Arjun Singh went for his first job interview. A village bumpkin, Singh had cleared his intermediate (Class 12) exams and was looking for a job in the city of dreams Mumbai. When the interviewer asked him about his qualifications, Singh proudly said he was a village topper. The manager then asked if he spoke any English since it would be essential for working in the big city.
Any villager however talented would have been flustered, but Singh didn’t bat an eyelid. “You see sir,” he said, “I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English, because English is a very funny language.”
For those who still don’t recall the incident, it was 1982. Singh was actually Amitabh Bachchan. The movie was Namak Halaal. And Bachchan’s dialogue went on to become the standard joke for India's obsession with the colonial language.
However, what is not funny is that even decades later English proficiency remains the most important job skill in real life. Sampath Kumar, a migrant labourer from Tamil Nadu who works in Bengaluru, knows it well. That is precisely why he wanted his seven-year-old son Damodaran to study in a private school as there were no English-medium government schools in Karnataka until last year.
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