Writing meaningful sentences to put across ideas was another area that needed attention. This skill had been difficult to acquire and more difficult to retain. It was many years later (seven to be precise) that I began to address this problem in right earnest.

I knew no one who spoke English in my immediate circle or in my neighbourhood, not to speak of a native speaker of English. The alternative was to listen to the All India Radio news bulletins. Hindi news bulletin was followed by English news bulletin. The latter was roughly the translation of the former. This was great in tuning up to the accent and correct pronunciation. The newsreader spoke in British accent, which I often tried to mimic in private. The problem, however, was that I had an old dilapidated valve radio that needed to be thrown in the garbage. Its sound was hardly above the audible level. Therefore, to overcome this handicap, I often sat outside the window of my first (ground) floor neighbour, requesting him not to switch off the English news bulletin that immediately followed the Hindi bulletin. Hindi news started at 8:45 p.m. while the English news followed immediately afterwards at 9:00 p.m. This was-off and on-my daily ritual in the evening for a long time. However, I must take this opportunity to thank my neighbours who missed a good 15 minutes of Bollywood film songs programmes being aired by numerous other radio stations.

I had no money to buy a daily English newspaper from the hawker. The alternative was to trudge to the nearest library-because I had no bicycle-and sit for an hour or so, either in the morning or evening. New English words always remained a problem because other competing readers waiting in the wing would freeze anyone with their cold stare who was seen taking copious notes from newspapers; therefore, the meaning was always understood in the context of the sentence or the paragraph.

Reading an English newspaper was a laborious exercise to begin with, because my reading speed was abysmally slow. Any attempt to artificially quicken the speed resulted in poor understanding of the prose. The alternative was strategic reading. After scanning the front page I headed straight to the editorial page and then went to op-ed page, and finally moved to sports news. Sports news often reflected the positive side of life, and it was one bright spot in the morning.

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