E.C. Sabu uses his two-decades of experience to teach Malayalam to a mixed bag of students

It was Chemmeen, the film on the fishermen community that inspired a film buff in Coimbatore to learn Malayalam. “He watched the film 22 times and then came to us,” recalls E.C. Sabu, a PG assistant in Malayalam at CMS School in Ganapathy, who also conducts the seven-month Malayalam Certificate Course at the Coimbatore Malayali Samajam in Tatabad.

“There is no age bar and every year we get a mixed group of students, advocates, Tamil professors, doctors, homemakers, and teachers who come from Marathi, Konkani, Telugu, Kannada or Urdu speaking backgrounds,” Sabu says, as the 24th batch of students line up for his class. The two-hour classes are conducted over every weekend. “I have never missed a single weekend and because of this I am very unpopular among my family members in Kerala. But, I have earned more friends here,” jokes Sabu. His teaching method that begins with easy letters and then the difficult ones has won appreciation among students.

He writes ‘Rha’ on the blackboard and says, “We don’t follow the traditional classroom teaching that begins ‘aa’. With easy words, students start writing simple sentences on day two and it improves their confidence.” He covers letters in the first three months, and then introduces them to forms, sentences, grammar and usage, and translation. He also gives the Hindi and Tamil equivalent to every Malayalam letter. “We try and link all languages, and bring about a culture connect with Kerala. The course is a stepping stone to learn more on Kerala’s art and culture.”

J. Sruthi Kanimozhi and V.J. Dayanand smile as they take notes and say that they want to converse in Malayalam with their friends. Another student, M. Ponnuswami, a retired DGM of BSNL, remembers his first posting in Mumbai in 1972. “A lot of my colleagues were from Kerala and that led me here after my retirement. The teaching model makes it easy for anyone,” he says.

Sabu peppers the classes with anecdotes and tells them, “Teach somebody at home. Get a copy of a Malayalam newspaper and circle the words you have learnt in class. There’s a thrill when you identify new words. Learn systematically.”

While some join the course for the sheer pleasure of learning, for businessmen it helps to deal with clients in Kerala. “Some want to read and enjoy Malayalam Literature. One of my students, a Tamil professor, now translates Basheer’s Malayalam works in Tamil,” he mentions.

B. Jayaram, a Cardio thoracic surgeon whose mother tongue is Telugu joined the course to converse with his patients from Kerala. “Though I cannot talk poetically, I manage to interact now.” C. Anand Kumar, a sub registrar learnt Malayalam as the third language to get a higher grade in his job. “Some of the documents prior to the period of 1954 are in Malayalam.”

Joys of learning

The alumni of the 22nd batch have formed a Malayalam Certificate Course Alumni Association to support the course. “I joined when I was 56,” says Malayalee R. Sasidharan, who was not very conversant with his mother tongue. “The course brought back my childhood memoires. It was fun to learn with young students. All you need is willpower and regular attendance. We read aloud and converse in Malayalam to feel confident.”

Geetha Narayana enrolled along with her 10-year-old grandson and now they both follow a daily ritual where they write verses in Hindi and Malayalam. Kannadiga V. Thangavelu joined the course along with his wife, both in their 60s. He visits the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala every year. “I carry a dictionary and refer to it when I have a doubt. I can understand Palakkad and Thrissur slang, I still find it difficult to follow Calicut style. I listen to Malayalee music, and the knowledge of Malayalam has strengthened my friendship with my friends from Kerala.”

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