Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | ST Weekly Blog | March 12, 2018
WHILE taking up the best traditions of the past, we are to build upon them for the future with solid hard work of our own. This method may require years of toil, and temporary disappointment but it is sure to be successful in the end.
When the Indian freedom fighter, Raja Mohendera Pratap (1886-1979), met Vladimir Lenin in Moscow in 1919, the leader of the Russian Socialist Revolution said to his Indian guest: “In which language should I speak — English, German, French or Russian?” Lenin had learnt all these languages. On this occasion, it was decided that the conversation should be conducted in English.
How had Lenin become so well-acquainted with so many languages? The answer is: by following the example of his elders and then building upon it with solid hard work. Lenin’s father died when Vladimir was only sixteen, and he was reared for the most part by his mother, Maria Alexandrova. Her household, writes Lenin’s biographer David Shub, ‘was run along spartan lines and the children were largely self-educated. Maria Alexandrova taught herself German, French, English and the piano.’
The manner in which Lenin followed in the footsteps of his mother is illustrated by his learning of the English language. While banished to Siberia by the Czarist regime (1897-1900), Lenin and his wife, Krupskaya translated ‘The Theory and Practice of Trade Unionism’ by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Not only did they translate the book from English into their native Russian, but Lenin also used to translate it back into English, without referring to the original text. In a letter to his sister Anna, he wrote: “I have concluded from my experience that this is the most rational method of learning a language.”
When Lenin and Krupskaya went to England in 1902, they found that, though they had translated Sidney and Beatrice Webbs, “their knowledge of English bore only a remote resemblance to the native product. With his usual zest, Lenin set to work learning the language. He went wherever he could hear English spoken, to pubs, to Hyde Park, to all sorts of meetings. Crowding up front, he listened carefully to every word and watched the lip movements of the speakers. In addition, he hired two English teachers and he taught them Russian in exchange for English lessons. With these efforts his English soon became fairly proficient, if not fluent.” (Lenin: A Biography, by David Shub, Pelican Books, p.70)
The method that Lenin adopted in learning English shows us the way to success in life. While remembering the best traditions of the past, we must add to those lessons with insight and hardwork of our own. This method may require years of toil, and temporary disappointment, but it is sure to be successful in end.