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Honing English skills

A teacher in Kalimpong town has given up her desire to go abroad, and is helping drivers in town speak English so that they can interact with tourists better.

Nisha Chettri | Kolkata |

We play… sing, jump… and dance to learn verbs. We had only dreamt of speaking in English, but now we actually can speak sentences,” says Madhu Pradhan, who drives a local taxi in Kalimpong town. He was referring to the way they are taught lessons at Sayon, the spoken English class, which several taxi drivers have now enrolled for.

Kalimpong town nestles in the ridge between Delo and Durpin hill, with many Maruti vans lined up, waiting for passengers/tourists to go sightseeing around. However, until now, little did the drivers like Mr Pradhan know that they can actually communicate in English with the tourists while they drive them around Kalimpong

Mr Pradhan, who started his driving profession in 1993, says his family is not aware of the fact that he has enrolled for the English classes. “I want to give them a surprise one day,” he says

Such classes for drivers in the town was the brainchild of Priyadarshna Bhusal, a TEFL-certified teacher, who teaches English at Dr Graham’s Homes School in the town. She completed her TEFL course last year, and she was supposed to fly abroad where she would teach English.

However, Miss Bhusal, landed in Coimbatore Airport during the recent election, and, according to her, the city seemed shut. “I somehow managed to locate a restaurant and stopped there for lunch and asked the cab to wait for some time, but as I came out of the restaurant, I accidentally boarded a different cab. The driver asked for my luggage, and I told him, it was at the back,” she says

icate in South India, but they speak English. Even the drivers do, albeit a bit broken. But the good thing there is that we still can at least communicate,” she adds. According to Miss Bhusal, after a few phone calls, the “original” driver later dropped her luggage at her new destination.

“The entire incident transformed me as a person and I started respecting this marginalized section of our community, for whom we have a stereotypical notion. We have a different viewpoint when it comes to cab drivers, don’t we?” she says.

She says these drivers play a vital role in people’s day-today life. Miss Bhushal, who is also a member of an antihuman trafficking NGO, says drivers also have a big hand when it comes to combating human trafficking. “They have first-hand information of people moving around,” she believes. She also says that a person new to a place learns certain things like food habits, attire, weather, etc mostly from drivers.

“All these led me to think that if only our drivers here could communicate with tourists better. This can add a compliment to their profession. I then made up my mind. I cancelled my plans to go abroad and decided to teach English to these set of people here, right at my birthplace of Kalimpong,” Miss Bhusal adds.

According to her, she first started it with her driver, Tufan, who dropped them to school every day. “I then approached the president of the drivers’ union, Mahindra Gurung, who was happy with my idea. He let us use the union’s community hall for the purpose,” she says.

While Miss Bhusal wanted to conduct the classes for free, it was Mr Gurung who insisted that she be paid, as, according to him, “people do not value any service given for free.” The class starts from 6 pm and ends at 7, thrice a week. A peek inside the class, and the students are all passionate about learning. However, their attendance is weak because of the tourist season presently, while some get caught in the never-ending traffic snarls as they return from far-off places like Siliguri. “However, we make it a point to collect notes from friends who have attended a particular class and practice speaking among ourselves whenever we have time later,” a driver says.

“Past, present, future, the tenses are a little difficult, but we are learning, I have a school service (pick and drop of students) and I now speak with the students in English, and they help me a lot,” says driver Tufan Chettri. Madhu Pradhan later said it was always difficult communicating with the tourists. “I used to take tourists around, and it was difficult to talk to them. Now, even when there are no tourists around, I speak with my friends at the Motor Stand in English, and they laugh and tease me, me I am bent on learning more and I am proud that I am doing so,” Mr Pradhan said.