How a Bihari Boy’s Passion for the English Language Turned His Life Around

A few years ago, Chandan Kumar could barely speak a few words of English. Now, he publishes essays on taxation.

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From not understanding the meaning of ‘Hi, how are you?’ to having an eleven- page essay published in an international taxation journal and winning the same essay writing competition, Chandan Kumar’s passion for the English language is now taking him places he had only dreamed of. Born into a humble family in Bihar, Chandan fell in love with the English language from a very early age. However, he considered himself ‘unlucky’ at that time to not have had the company of English-speaking friends, like most of us living in metro cities do. He was determined to learn the language he had a special affection for.  He would watch the news on Doordarshan’s English network even though he would not understand most of what was being said.

 

“I remember protesting in the family, as other family members wanted to watch a serial or Hindi movie, while I wanted to watch DD news without understanding a single word,” says Chandan. During Chandan’s school days, English was not mandatory for students in Bihar.  So like many of his friends, he did not take English too seriously as he had to focus on other subjects to clear his 10th standard exams. There was also was no one from his village or school who spoke in English. For Chandan, however, English was a ticket to brighter and prosperous world.

“I always dreamt of speaking and writing in English. I wanted to hold conversations with foreigners (which I’m able to do today through my profession). For me it meant empowerment. It meant a decent job. It meant freedom from extreme poverty. One of my friends suggested I read newspapers in English. I used to buy old newspapers, read it, then sell it and again and buy old ones. I did this for three years during my undergrad days.”When I asked Chandan about how he coped with his studies as the medium of instruction was in English, he said that he could manage to grasp written content to some extent but a conversation with friends was a challenge. To complete his graduation, Chandan moved to Pune. In Pune, he came across many English-speaking people unlike his home state of Bihar. He also met a few people from other countries and befriended his fellow classmate Michael, who was from Kenya. Michael was brilliant in English as it was his native tongue but needed help with accounting. So, they decided to help each other out as Chandan excelled at accounting and Michael in English.

Chandan believes that his major breakthrough happened when he decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy (CA). However, it was only in his third year of B.com that he had become aware of the professional CA. certification. He says, “It was in the third year of college that I first learned about CA.  One of my professors was a Chartered Accountant and he inspired me to become a CA.” Thanks to his own personal efforts in learning English, Chandan believes he was able to cope with the basic language requirements to pursue CA, as the course was imparted in English. After he completed Chartered Accountancy, he went on to pursue a certificate course on International Taxation from ICAI, New Delhi. After that, he completed an Advanced Diploma in International Taxation from Chartered Institute of Taxation, UK.  Given that English has opened many doors for him, he now aspires to earn a degree in law from the University of Mumbai. Chandan is motivated to study law and he dreams of working as a tax lawyer as well.

Today, Chandan works for the sixth largest accounting firm in India as a consultant in corporate tax and advisory. His company is based in Mumbai’s famed business district Nariman Point. His profession has given him the opportunity to rub shoulders with financial professionals from India as well as the international community. His dream of communicating in English with foreigners has been realized and he has every reason to be proud of his achievements. Chandan continues to pursue his passion for the English language through regular reading and writing. He writes articles for the finance community and is avid reader of popular English fiction and non-fiction novels. The Pursuit of Happyness and The Shawshank Redemption are some of Chandan’s all-time favourite movies. I believe Chandan’s story gives us important life lessons. First, perseverance always pays off. Second, you don’t have to know everything about the future. Have a dream and pursue it relentlessly. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”