English teaching, Tulsidas

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  • Published 21.12.08

It’s poetry. Don’t kill it,” Nicholas Horsburgh groaned. A moment before, the ponytailed Englishman was singing a Tulsidas doha, earning applause from the auditorium, full of English language schoolteachers. The applause died down at his impersonation of standard classroom practice of how each word of the couplet would be broken into grammatical fragments and its lyricism sucked dry.

Horsburgh, an ELT expert and educational consultant based in the UK, has been writing textbooks for schoolchildren for years and was in Calcutta to hold a Oxford University Press-hosted workshop for teachers.

If Horsburgh’s proficiency in Hindi was a surprise, the reason is not far to seek. He was born in rural Karnataka, where his father had started a school for villagers.

Nicholas’s father, David, came to Bengal as a pilot during World War II. “He loved it here and helped with a village school. He later opened a school, Neelbagh, in Karnataka.”

Horsburgh joined Neelbagh in 1975, after completing his education in England and touring India as chief education officer of the British Council.

“In our system, the teacher’s role was to encourage children, who were all from unlettered families. We provided them a classroom with 300 books and also lessons in pottery and carpentry. But attendance was lean in the harvest season.”

His faith in the school is borne out by the fact that his own children studied there. “They never faced a problem when they took mainstream exams.” Nicholas started two more schools — one in Karnataka and the other on the Andhra border.

The village did not have electricity, or running water. “But we had four square meals a day and everything we wanted,” the 56-year-old said.

He left because of the “bureaucratic nightmare” that he had to face in post-Indira Gandhi India. He now writes books, meant especially for children of the subcontinent.