Rejected by five MNCs, yet with a desire to create her own identity, she created various milestones in her life. Young Pallavi Singh had come all the way from Delhi to make her living in Mumbai. From teaching 500+ expats/foreigners to being retained by six consulates to teach Hindi as a foreign language to their staff and family members, Pallavi has been in the limelight since 2011. She has taught each kind, from Bollywood backdrop dancers and models to students, official diplomats and foreigners married to Indians. Her proud additions to the list are author and historian William Dalrymple, actress Jacqueline Fernandez, singer Natalie Di Luccio and model Lucinda Nicholas. Sanchari Banerjee spoke to this young entrepreneur.
TTT: Tell us about your journey; when and how did it start?
Pallavi: The Indian education system is about “stamping” people instead of enabling them. Inevitably, everyone solicits these stamps. I could not make it to one. It was pretty clear that no major corporate was interested in me; neither was my education helping as a catalyst to make way for me. Ironically, I went to the second best Arts college in the whole of India, but that’s exactly what it was — “Arts” not “Tech”. It was crystal clear that I would have to create my own means of employment. And I was not willing to wait until 30 years of age to see any money (Read — payscale(s) in the employment sector in India). Hence this sowed the seed for “teaching Hindi” back in August 2011.
TTT: When we Indians are being influenced by western culture, what influenced you to teach Hindi?
Pallavi: Hindi is my native language; I speak the language in and out. I am from Delhi, which is the heartland of Hindi. This is my asset and I believe in capitalizing on existing talents rather than chasing new ones.
As for influence, I think it is just sad — because there is clearly a “pick and choose” pattern to it. Do we watch season after season of American/British TV shows? Sure! Do we ape the civilian behaviour towards people/friends? No. Do we copy the lifestyle patterns (read, visiting bars, dating, etc.)? Sure! Do we necessarily understand the underlying societal norms behind those? Probably not. Do people misconceive western society by watching say American Pie? Sure! Is there any effort to perceive people as they are and get to know them and hence their culture? Not so much.
TTT: All your students say that you use interesting methods to teach them. What are the methods that attract them?
Pallavi: I always employ humour and engage my students in various creative activities. There is no “list” per say. It is a module designed to probe various everyday language requirements. I am extremely informal; I believe that helps.
TTT: How do you connect with your foreign students despite the fact they do not understand the native language of India?
Pallavi: I always start with “Where are you from?” and “Why are you here?” I do not think a lot is required to connect with people. As long as you are a reasonably decent person with a good ear and a little bit of compassion, it is pretty damn easy.
TTT: Retained by various consulates to teach Hindi to their staff and family members, how do you manage your busy schedule?
Pallavi: I know that I live in a city where you need a lot of planning to travel from one place to another. I calibrate my day very carefully. I am almost never late. And I hate to say it, but I guess people in Mumbai are dangerously comfortable with blaming the traffic every time they are late. It is not that hard to estimate.
TTT: How different is it to be a speaker at TEDx, the global platform to share ideas?
Pallavi: It was a bigger name, sure. I prepare equally for every event, as I do not believe in stamps. It is not different for me but the platform is global and people recognize you more. It adds on to your credentials. I’m grateful to have received the opportunity.
TTT: How different is the feeling of teaching a celebrity?
Pallavi: Scheduling a class is definitely a tough task as their lifestyles are very different. Teaching as such is the same really. Same concepts to be taught with equal enthusiasm and efficiency.
TTT: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Pallavi: I do not know. I can give you a nice fancy illusionary answer but that would be lying. I have immediate personal plans but no professional plans. Plans never work out. I would like to see myself on a global platform, so we’ll see if, how and when that happens.
TTT: Your advice for our young readers.
Pallavi: Do not direct your life as to how people suggest it should be. Follow your compass, whatever it is. There is a lot of manipulation in our society (oh yes!) but follow your gut. Push your boundaries — the bigger the risk, the bigger the return. And be sensible — work your strengths.