My carpenter showed up at 8:30 this morning for his English lesson.
He was freshly bathed, I could still smell the sandalwood soap’s fragrance coming off him. His curly mop was neatly combed down, though the curls were starting to bounce out of line. A dab of vermillion powder was on his forehead, he had prayed before coming here, an auspicious invocation. Trying to look serious for this new and important endeavor, his enthusiasm still leaked out to lift the edges of his mouth into a smile and light an eager twinkle in his eyes.
He looked ready to learn English and change his life.
Two weeks earlier, I had moved into my parents’ new flat and he was the first serviceman to show up. The kitchen cabinets needed to be shifted. As the work got underway, he asked me why I had a strange Marathi accent. I gave him a sideways glance to see what his intention was in observing that. Most workers didn’t bother engaging in conversation; they just wanted to get in and get out as soon as possible, moving on to the next job. While I was thinking about the response to give him, he offered his own.
“Are you from elsewhere? I mean, have you lived abroad? You don’t sound like you are from here.”
Cornered, I nodded. “Yes, I’ve lived in America. For many years.”
“I thought it was something like that,” he noted. A pause ensued, and then he asked, curious, “What is it like there?”
He seemed to be envisioning it all as I tried to describe life in the US – the abundance of stuff, the innovative spirit, the supportive culture to be whatever you want to be. And the professionalism.
“You know, a job in the US gets done 100 percent. People don’t leave a mess when they come to do a job, like here.” I might have exaggerated a bit, but I wanted to stress the service orientation that is at a different level altogether there.
He listened intently. Finishing the job, he instructed his apprentice to clean up. He then turned to me, and in a low voice, said, “I agree with everything you said. I want to learn English so I can run my own business, the way I want to. Will you teach me?”
Astonished, I looked at him. His face was earnest and in his eyes, I could see the courage it had taken him to broach this with me. He wanted it, badly.
“Sure,” I responded, “I would be happy to.”
He beamed. “You know, I would be much more ahead in life if I knew English. I want to run this furniture business for myself, instead of working for someone else. But I need to know how to talk to customers in English, because that’s what everyone does nowadays.
“Once I learn from you, I am moving to [—], I’ve already scouted it out, it’s a good market. I want you to come to the grand opening of my showroom!”
“I would be honored,” I replied. “We’ll start next week, Monday.”
In the days leading up, he called me almost every day, to confirm the lesson.
I am truly humbled by my carpenter. Originally from Rajasthan, his entrepreneurial spirit has whisked him all the way south to Aurangabad, leaving behind his family, friends, culture. He learned Marathi here, and found his footing well enough to bring along some of his townsfolk to get them gainfully employed.
And now, he is talking about conquering another new language, another new frontier. Despite a full day of physically arduous labour, he is unflinching about making time for this.
My carpenter is full of self-confidence, he knows he will make it big and not remain a carpenter. I know he will too. I’ve seen enough successful people to recognize the vision, passion and courage that leads them to success.
I’m grateful to be a part of his journey, and excited to open a whole new world to him.