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Hidden In The Center Of Newtown, A Hindi School Flourishes



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Hidden In The Center Of Newtown, A Hindi School Flourishes

By Nancy K. Crevier

“I look around and ask myself, ‘How did I do all of this?’” Kishori Barman is talking about the Hindi Learning Center of Greater Danbury, a school for learning the Hindi language and customs that she has operated out of her Queen Street home for 25 years.

The school has evolved from a casual teaching situation in the early 1980s geared toward introducing her son, Neil, and a few friends to Hindi, to today’s present enrollment of 30 students from all over Connecticut. Some of the high school students have been with Mrs Barman from the time they were in grade school and have become quite accomplished, said Mrs Barman. “My son,” she laughed, “is better at Hindi now than I am.”

Mrs Barman was no stranger to teaching when she began giving Hindi lessons, although language arts was not her field of expertise. She grew up in northern India and taught science there until moving to the United States in 1977. She and her husband, who passed away many years ago, moved to Newtown in 1978, and it was then that she decided her son could benefit from learning the language of his forefathers.

“I felt it was important for Neil to know Hindi, so that when we visited family in India, he could communicate with them,” said Mrs Barman, seated in the large downstairs room of her home that serves as a classroom. Gradually, other parents, even those who knew no Hindi themselves, brought their children to Mrs Barman for instruction.

“We have slowly changed over the years to a more organized, a more structured learning experience,” said Mrs Barman, and her son has helped her develop the two manuals that she uses to teach the children the Hindi alphabet and sounds. Writing and reading exercises and lessons on major Indian holidays are included in each of the books.

“I have to work hard to teach them all of the sounds when they begin,” said Mrs Barman. “In Hindi, there are 13 vowels and 39 consonants in the alphabet, and there are more sounds than in English. It is very difficult.”

The students meet with her for one hour at a time once a week, but if they want to be successful they must put in additional study time at home. Mrs Barman assigns homework and projects and expects the students to practice outside of class. They learn to read, to write, and to speak Hindi and they are introduced to the folklore and culture of India. Students also use a computer program that teaches them Hindi typing. In order to facilitate learning, she said, her son put together a manual that includes a diagram of the Hindi and English letters on the typewriter as well as many tips for typing in Hindi. Hindi vowels, for instance, are mostly clustered on the left hand side of the keyboard, the book advises. “We are always updating our information,” said Mrs Barman. “Hindi is so different from English. I spend a lot of time thinking how my students can learn better, how to make it easier for them to understand,” she said.

The walls sport maps and charts, and examples of her students’ works are propped up wherever there is room. What looks like a clock made of colorful construction paper is actually a number wheel for learning the Hindi numbers one through ten.

A bookcase covers nearly one wall of the classroom, filled with books. Many are textbooks that she has brought back from her visits to India, but contemporary and classic Indian novels and nonfiction titles are included, as well. A long table is covered with yet more textbooks, all of which are used in schools in India, she said. As the school has developed, she has made it a point to try to follow an Indian school curriculum. If students stay with the lessons long enough, they will follow the same progression as a student in India.

 Mrs Barman is the primary language instructor for the Hindi Learning Center of Greater Danbury, but she is not averse to including friends and parents who can enhance the class with their knowledge of holiday celebrations, dance, and music.

“It is not all hard work,” she said. “If it was not fun, the children would not want to come back. The kids enjoy it, though. They have friends here and they look forward to the classes.”

The cultural celebrations are a big part of what keeps the students interested, she believes. Every January, the classes celebrate Republic Day of India. “We color pictures of the Indian flag and have contests, we learn to sing the Indian national anthem, and I have a big cake decorated like the flag.”

Another favorite festivity is held in the spring. The Festival of Colors, or “Holi,” welcomes the time of renewal. In India the harvest is in, and on the full moon of March, Holi is celebrated. Playing with colored water, blowing colored bubbles from bubble guns, face painting, and colorful scarves that swirl as the celebrants dance and sing are all part of Holi, said Mrs Barman, and she tries to recreate the holiday as best she can at her school. Parents and friends bring traditional sweets to snack on.

In October, the school hosted the Annual Cultural Festival at St Ann Church in Danbury. The evening of performances showcased the efforts of Mrs Barman’s students. Drama, recitations and singing in the Hindi language, and dances performed by the children entertained a large audience of friends and families. A dramatization of the Ramayana, a story of the Hindu Lord Ram, was presented in Hindi, as well, complete with elaborate costumes.

Just as public schools recognize the hard work of students, the Hindi Learning Center of Greater Danbury also acknowledges the efforts of its students. The Annual Cultural Festival serves as a time for the presentation of trophies and certificates of achievement that the students have earned over the year of study.

Amazingly enough, Mrs Barman finds her reward not in dollars and cents, but in the pride of accomplishment for both herself and her students. She does not charge for the lessons. The only cost her students incur is for the manual and whatever they donate in terms of refreshments or props for events. “Teaching Hindi is my passion,” said Mrs Barman. “I dearly enjoy it. I feel satisfied and I feel proud that [the students] are learning.”

That there is a need to learn the language is apparent not only to Mrs Barman, evidently, but to the nation. “As more industry develops in India, there is a need for people that speak Hindi,” explained Mrs Barman. She is presently working with the International Hindi Samiti in Roslyn, Va., a worldwide organization focused on the preservation of the Indian heritage, to develop a syllabus for schools in America to teach Hindi. Corporations may find a need to offer instruction to employees in the future, as well, so Mrs Barman does not rule out the possibility that her curriculum could find its way into adult education one day.

Her home has served the school well as a location for teaching. Mrs Barman, however, is seeking a larger, permanent space to house the school as it continues to flourish. “I don’t want to charge the families, though, so it is difficult to find a place that does not charge me,” she said.

How has she made the Hindi Learning Center of Greater Danbury what it is? Through hard work, dedication, and a true devotion to what she believes in. In passing on her love of the Hindi language and culture, she also passes on a sense of community for people of Indian heritage. It is a gift she is happy to give.

To register for classes or for more information, Mrs Barman can be contacted at 426-0108 or at kishori.barman@gmail.com.

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