Former maharaja teaches youths German and Urdu free of charge (Feature)

September 28th, 2008 - 3:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Sangli, Sep 28 (IANS) This rapidly prospering town in western Maharashtra probably has the largest number of German speakers in India - thanks to the singular efforts of the former Maharaja of Sangli.The town, 460 km from Mumbai, now boasts of a 6,000-plus pool of people, mainly youth, with a good working knowledge of German, all personally taught and trained by Vijaysinghrao Madhavrao Patwardhan.

He is the fourth descendant of the Patwardhan dynasty of the erstwhile Sangli kingdom, which was part of Bombay State. Spread across 3,000 sq km, it joined India in March 1948, when Patwardhan was just five years old.

The population of Sangli, which stands at a little over 500,000 today, has doubled in the past 100 years.

“However, few good employment opportunities were available locally. Our educated youth had to go to places like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Their families allowed them to go very reluctantly,” Patwardhan told IANS in an interview.

This set him thinking about how, in the absence of employment opportunities - barring farming - entrepreneurship avenues could be created for the youth of Sangli.

“In the past 8-9 years, information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) have developed in a big way around the country, but Sangli has not got anything, owing to poor accessibility. But first, a qualified pool of youth had to be created,” explained Patwardhan, the father of Bollywood actress Bhagyashree.

The situation made Patwardhan consider teaching basic, conversational German with a comfortable vocabulary within just 14 hours spread over seven days - absolutely free of cost.

Starting around 2003, Patwardhan taught batches of 80-odd students. The only pre-requisite was that they had to know English. The classroom was a hall outside a local temple.

Initially many were overawed by the presence of the former ruler as a teacher, but seeing his benign nature, people started flocking to the classes.

“I have developed my own technique, which is extremely simple to grasp. Grammar follows the basics with a lot of visual support,” Patwardhan said. He also distributes a copy of his book, “German in 36 Hours”, which serves as reading material.

He said that his students are equipped with sufficient working knowledge of the language to comfortably visit or live in Germany.

However, Patwardhan’s dream - that information technology (IT) companies or BPOs would make Sangli their preferred destination - remains a dream. Probably the major reason is that Sangli still does not have a direct flight to Mumbai.

When approached to help out in the matter, associations like the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce (IGCC) in Mumbai showed initial enthusiasm, but were rendered speechless when nearly 1,000 people wanted to interact with an IGCC delegation - in German.

Explaining the choice of German over any other foreign language, Patwardhan predicted Germany would be the future economic engine which would drive Europe, offering immense scope for IT and BPO sectors in India.

“Plus, German is spoken as it is written, so it becomes much easier to comprehend and learn it,” he pointed out.

Apart from German, Patwardhan teaches Urdu, again free of cost. Around 65 percent his Urdu students are non-Muslims.

“The intention is to assimilate the social-cultural fabric of Sangli and bring the people closer to each other,” said Patwardhan. Muslims formed nearly 20 percent of the population in the erstwhile state of Sangli.

The results of the Urdu classes have been amazing, says the teacher. “At Urdu functions, Hindus enjoy the proceedings as much their Muslim brethren.”

Talking of his Urdu students, Patwardhan says: “The Muslim students include those who can speak Urdu since it is their mother tongue, but cannot read or write it. Others come to improve their employment prospects in the Gulf countries.”

Patwardhan - with degrees in law and engineering from the University of Mumbai - said: “It’s a misconception that Urdu is a Muslim language. It’s an Indian language, rich and dignified, that is spoken by millions in the country.

Among his unexpected students were some school principals and Urdu schoolteachers, who imbibed Patwardhan’s unique teaching technique and implemented it successfully in their own institutions.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

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