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“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.” Mastering another language not only bumps up your CV a notch above or say, breaks down the communication barrier while travelling. But, also enhances your cognitive process. Pallavi Singh is one such ‘Hindi’ teacher who teaches the language to expatriates and foreigners in Mumbai. Since 2011, she has acquired an impressive list of clients ranging from Bollywood personalities, official diplomats, foreigners married to Indians and as such. One of her ‘students,’ the celebrated author, William Dalrymple said about Pallavi’s Hindi teaching skills:-
“Pallavi Singh is a dream Hindi teacher and makes even the dullest chores of language-learning: grammar, verbs, gender – fun. -William Dalrymple
She was also a speaker at TEDx talking about Language serving as a Social Inclusion Tool. We striked a conversation with Pallavi about her plans in making Hindi Lessons For Foreigners a go-to place for people wanting to learn Hindi.
How would you describe the immediate aim of your initiative?
I’m enabling foreign tourists and expats scratch the surface by giving them linguistic tools and necessary cultural insights to make their time in India exponentially more rewarding and enriching. I took the initiative to refine and improvise on teaching pedagogy available for Hindi and present it in a fun, interactive and engaging manner. I intend to break open the image of India as a “mystical, spiritual, exotic” and transition it into a more authentic image of “rusty, real and still an insulated, untouched traditional” place India as a country is. My business “Pallavi Linguistic Services LLP” is a conscious set-up to disseminate the almost world-wide reach of the language Hindi.
What pushed you to opt for an offbeat, unconventional and unusual beat like teaching Hindi to foreign nationals and expats?
The tipping point was back in 2014 September when I had an Internship opportunity in Canada and despite submitting the required correct paperwork – my visa was denied as the optics were not in my favor. This incident slapped me on my face and brought forward a very poignant factor which governs one’s life’s trajectory – where & with how much money you’re born. After researching quite a bit – I found out how hard it is to be an Indian Passport Holder in the areas of world travel, education and access to global opportunities.
I had to pick a lane – I did.
With such unconventional job at hand, presumably you must have faced lot of challenges. How did you counter them?
Personally, honestly, there was not a lot of back and forth. I was quite clear in what was working for me and what I had to do to take it forward. I live in Mumbai – which has one of the most costliest real estate in India and world-wide so yes, it took a long time to reach a spot in life where I could afford a place of my own, so financially there was, has been and will always be a struggle to make the best of the little space one can afford. The niche that my life has become and the very unconventionality of it is what keeps me going and moving forward.
What were the specific challenges pertaining to your initiative that you had to face?
Initial struggle was to establish trust among the expat community and prove the quality of the service. Friends thought it was a cool “hobby” and parents thought it was another “experiment”. It was actually neither. It was me trying really hard to make a living out of my passion. Indians are not really encouraged to take risks – I took a big one, so I did not have the privilege of failure – only an option to succeed.
Were you ambitious during your growing up years?
I actually never had “an ambition”. How do you even know what you want from life at 15 years of age? Hailing from a middle-class society, you only really have two options – medicine or science. There was no major discussion or investigation, I was doing what everyone else was as that was believed to be “the right thing to do”. Until I really started getting annoyed by it – and then eventually decided to pursue something of my own choice.
So did studies act as a bridge between you and your ambitions?
I guess my schooling until class 10th was the best phase. I always really enjoyed going to school and ranked amongst top 5 of the class. Things went down South after that. I have a degree in Engineering and psychology but I chose to pursue neither. I had to change course because I realized neither of the professions would help me attain the monetary and emotional fulfillment I was soliciting from my work.
What would you say worked for you as an advantage while launching this initiative?
Being an “Indian” woman translated into a self-motivated individual steering ahead without a lot of societal or familial support – it is great human angle and people respond to it.
What is your take on the status of working women professionals in the current scenario?
Unfortunately, I’m afraid I do not see any drastic changes happening for women professionals in India. They are not perceived as an asset as their marriage and kids is seen as an inevitable which could affect company’s profit. I think the overall societal shift in traditional values would create a valuable impact over a few generations.
What is your advice for the new-age women professionals?
My honest five tips for women professionals, would be the following –
Know and understand where you’re from.
Hustle through it and make the best of it. Respond to your (as a very good friend of mine says – “Calling”)
Keep at it – Be “Gritty”. Always keep finances in mind – never live on credit.
Have a vision – work towards something.
Be proactive, always assume the worst.