80-year-old Trilochan Singh’s residence in Mayur Vihar was strewn with Malayalam books, with several notebooks displaying his proficiency in an unrelated language.
“Enik Malayalam ishtamaan (I love Malayalam),” he enthused, showing off his grades from Malayalam Mission classes.
Malayalam Mission, a 10-year course, was flagged off in Delhi for the Malayali diaspora in 2005 with the approval of the Kerala government. Seeing the success and popularity in the national capital, the government inaugurated a scheme to teach in various centers. the world in 2009 by then Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.
The joint secretary of the Malayalam Mission in Delhi, Sreenivas NV, said that apart from a large number of Malayalam children and a few adults with Kerala roots, only three people from different backgrounds have joined. One is Trilochan Singh and other two are siblings Hemant and Prem Thapa from Nepal. “They come from many backgrounds and it’s interesting that someone like Singh, at his age, is still passionate about learning such a foreign language,” he said.
Born in Lahore, Singh settled in Delhi after Partition. For Singh, a technician in the Central Public Works Department in East Delhi, the decision to learn the language did not come from post-retirement boredom. Instead, he was first charmed by Tamil and then Malayalam through a friend in Kerala.
His love for learning Malayalam started in 1998 after visiting Kozhikode for his friend’s sister’s wedding. After that, he returned to the capital eager to master the language. “Then I bought the Malayalam books of RK Puram from the education ministry, but I don’t remember how I came to own the rest,” he said.
“I started my formal Malayalam schooling in 2017. Over the course of almost two decades, even with occasional help from some Malayalis to study alone, I realized that if I have to learn the language, I have to learn it well. Now I can write essays in Malayalam,” said Singh, who proudly displayed his ‘Certificate of Merit’ with a C grade in his introductory course.
There are four levels in the course: beginner’s certificate course (two years), diploma course (two years), advanced diploma course (three years) and advanced diploma course (three years). The certificate course starts with alphabets, basic reading and writing in Malayalam. The diploma course involves advanced skills such as essay and story writing.
Singh’s centre, which holds classes every Sunday from 4pm to 5.30pm, is close to his home. “I’ve seen him work because he overslept and missed classes. He is being very serious,” said Singh’s wife Nirmal Kaur (72). The octogenarian has hearing loss because of his age, but he works twice as hard to let it interfere with his learning, he said.
“I am happy that he is interested in this since his retirement, and taking up such a hobby has strengthened his ideas,” added Nirmal. “He doesn’t enjoy Punjabi that much. He cannot even remember the names of the ten Gurus of Sikhism,” he said with a hint of disapproval.
However, Singh said, “This is not just a hobby. I retired in 2005. My love for this language dates back to before.’
Nepalese siblings Hemant (16) and Prem Thapa (13) share a similar enthusiasm. “I enrolled in Malayalam mission classes when I was six years old. I have many Malayali friends. When they spoke in their mother tongue, I was very fascinated,” said Hemant, who lives in Hastsal Vikaspur, a predominantly Malayali neighbourhood. Hemant and Prem completed their diploma course under the scheme this year, said Sara Isac, West Delhi scheme coordinator.
He joined three years after Prem Hemant. Both attend classes without fail, Hemant said. Their father Bharat Thapa said Hemant’s Malayali teaching teacher informed them about the scheme. “I didn’t think about it because they are fluent in four languages (Nepali, Hindi, English and Malayalam). We have not visited Kerala nor have any connection with the state, but we want to go there sometime,” he said.
When asked what he likes about the classes, Hemant said that this year’s Onam celebration was enjoyable. “I ate Sadhya after a long time. We sang Malayalam songs on Onam. It was a good day,” he said.
For siblings Trilochan Singh and Thapa, the journey has been a long one, spanning more than a decade between the two of them, but it is far from over.
Singh took the second test but could not clear the paper this year. “I got a D this time. I have to take the exam again next year. I got in the way with a story I was supposed to write, but I couldn’t finish it in time. I failed by one mark,” he said. Nirmal reflected, “You have come this far, you will definitely clean up next time. Don’t lose heart now.”