A Kerala Sevens Football player from Ivory Coast inspired this JNU researcher to study French

Ashik learnt French from Musa, an Ivory Coast athlete participating in the Kerala Sevens Football Tournament. He is pursuing a PhD in French on a JRF.

Ashik is pursuing a PhD in French at JNU on a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) awarded through UGC NET exam.Ashik is pursuing a PhD in French at JNU on a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) awarded through UGC NET exam.

Anu Parthiban | July 5, 2023 | 11:33 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, when Ashik Kadambodan, a native of Malappuram, agreed to help his friend to assist African football players who came to Kerala to participate in the Sevens Football tournament, French was the last thing on his mind. Today, he is pursuing a PhD in French at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) awarded through the highly-competitive UGC-NET exam. His is a classic tale of how a simple act of humanity transformed the life of a student in God’s own country.

Sevens tournament is at the very heart of the football-loving state Kerala, especially Malappuram district. The main draw of the tournament is the contingent of African players who, no matter which African country they come from, are commonly called ‘Sudani’ by the natives of the state. Kadambodan’s friend, a manager of one of the football teams, approached him to help communicate in English. Little did Kadambodan know that he would fall for the language of romance, French.

When he tried to communicate in English with eight players who came mainly from West Africa - Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Ghana - none of them responded. He recollected that the players were furious as they did not understand the language or the culture, much like in the 2018 Malayalam movie, Sudani from Nigeria. A little while later, Musa, one of the players and from Ivory Coast, started saying “French, French!”.

Amazed to discover that not all foreigners knew English, Kadambodan immediately approached a college professor for assistance. The teacher gave him a basic French book and taught him a few words and phrases like “bonjour” (hello), “comment ça va?” (how are you?), and merci (thanks).

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Learning French from Musa

His fascination with the French didn’t end there. Kadambodan wanted to learn more and the footballers, especially Musa, became his first teacher. Musa would read the basic French book to him every day. He also watched French tutorial videos on YouTube and found Musa’s pronunciation to be different. Now curious, he started reading about the language, its history in West Africa and the colonial period when it was controlled by France.

Eager to talk in French, he said: “I used to travel to Fort Kochi, Kovalam beach to talk to native French speakers. I never missed a chance to talk to tourists and constantly corrected my pronunciation.”

kerala, sevens tournament, malappuram, africa, ivory coast, football player, french, jnu, phd, jrfAshik (left) and Musa (right) during the Sevens tournament in Kerala.

“I decided to appear in the JNU entrance exam to study French literature. I cleared the exam on the first try in 2020. Since the whole country was under COVID-19 lockdown, the first-year classes were conducted online and I reached New Delhi the next year, as offline classes started then.”

During the lockdown period, he also taught French to hotel and tourism management students at Amal College of Advanced Studies, Nilambur.

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Clearing NTA NET 2023, JRF

After earning a postgraduate degree in French literature, Kadambodan appeared in the University Grant Commission – National Eligibility Test (UGC NET 2023) held in February and, again on first attempt, won the highly-coveted Junior Research Fellowship. He is now studying for a PhD in French literature at JNU. Alongside, he tutors children in Classes 9 and 10 in French.

“I love to teach French and I will mostly take a profession in teaching. The language has never failed to fascinate me. I will also be learning Canadian French, African French, and European French.”

Kadambodan still talks to Musa when he can. “It is difficult for the players there to talk often on the phone. I remember once he showed me his home on a video call. Even though I wanted to call all the players here in Kerala for a get-together, my friend (the manager) reminds me how tough it is for them to come here,” he said.

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