Sunday, July 17, 2005

Highs and Humiliations

Highs and humiliations – part I

I cursed myself for being so unassertive when I entered the campus. I was overawed as I saw the lawns, playgrounds, the people etc etc .
Everything was so much different from what I had seen in my school. Just one of the playgrounds in the campus was 10 times bigger than the whole of my school size. I felt like crying. There were a thousand butterflies in my stomach and I felt like running away from the place. I hadn’t expected this when my English teacher entered the Vth C classroom one fine day.
She apologized for interrupting the class and started addressing the class.
“Alright people!! We have got an invitation from a school in the city for an elocution competition in English. They are conducting this in remembrance of a student who met a tragic death recently”
I could recall the incident from what I had seen in the news. One of the students of a high profile school was kidnapped for ransom and was killed recently. I had felt real bad about the incident.

“So, who is volunteering for the competition?”, the teacher’s voice resonated in the room.
Quite a few people in the class looked at me. I had been topping the English marks for a while now and was known as the most talkative guy in the whole school. That somehow seemed to suggest them that I would be volunteering. They should be crazy. I can’t get into something this big. Hell!! I don’t even know where this school is and how big it is!

“Let me correct myself. Who else is volunteering other than Ramanujam??”, the teacher continued.
Ramanujam, isn’t that my name??? Oh my God!!!!!!!!!

I looked at her bewildered.
“What are you looking at?? Your name is there in the list, of course. The principal asked me to add your name as soon as she saw the invitation.”
“But ma’am!!! I don’t know anything!!! I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t know about all that, talk to the principal if you have anything to say”.
That does it!!! She knows that I wouldn’t dare to be anywhere near the principal’s room.
I had an unexplainable fear of authority. In fact I was fearful of everything and anything.
A couple of pathetic souls actually volunteered for the massacre for some reason, which I couldn’t figure out.
I let out a final call of mercy as she left the room after registering the names. She didn’t even turn back. It looked like she didn’t hear my voice.
I assumed that she wouldn’t have added my name. After all, this is a democratic country; nobody can force me to do anything against my will!!! So I thought!! How stupid of me.

I got reminded of the competition one day before the day it was to happen. It was from my dear English teacher again.
“Ok Ramanujam, the school van will leave at 7.00 am sharp to drop you at the place, so make sure you make yourself available at 6.30-6.45”, her voice was clear as crystal. I always admired her for that.
“Ok ma’am!!” I replied.
Everything is fine but for what? After mustering up the courage I asked her.

“What is it for??”
She looked at me a little angrily. I regretted for having asked the question.
“Don’t be silly Ramanujam!!! It’s for that competition I told you about. You have been preparing for it, isn’t it??”
My blood froze.
“But I didn’t volunteer for it!!!”
She stared at me.
“Please ma’am!! Please let me go. I haven’t prepared. I don’t want to go. I shall prepare next time” my voice was breaking up.
“How dare you to tell me that you haven’t prepared?? I have told the principal that you are going. Inform the principal if you are not going”, so saying, she started walking.

After walking for a while she looked back at me and said “ the van leaves at 7 am sharp”

That night I felt so miserable. The next day I went to the school like a lamb marked for sacrifice.

Thus I am in this place, which is like a new planet to me. All the girls were wearing full pants and shirt as uniform, which I hadn’t heard of before. All the students were speaking high quality English with a foreign accent. I realized this when I had a real tough time negotiating with these people with my butler English as I tried to find the way to the restroom.

Soon I entered the hall where the competition was to be held for my level.
It was just a classroom but it looked like a huge hall in comparison to the classes in my school. The parents of some participants had arrived and they were seated at the backbenches behind all the contestants.

There was some introduction and soon the first contestant was invited to speak. I was very glad it wasn’t me. As he started speaking there was some ruffle at the back seat. Amidst the commotion I figured that the topic was printed with the wrong spelling in the invitation.

Perfect!!!! This keeps getting better and better.

Finally the judges decided that they shall allow the contestants to speak in the topic printed in the invitation. I was busy, trying to remember what the topic was.

One by one, each contestant was called. I went through unexplainable trauma as I waited every time for the name to be called out only to find out that it’s not my name. Each contestant spoke for the allotted time and went towards the guy on the side to receive their participation certificates amidst the applause.

The waves can jump and play in the sea as long as it wants but it has to reach the shore some time or the other. Soon my name was called out.

To be continued………

Highs and humiliations – part II

I stood up. I felt everybody in the hall was looking at me. I closed my eyes and begged God to give me a Cyanide capsule so that I can swallow it and end what I was going through.
After a while as the judges started staring at me, I realized I have to walk to the podium.
I slowly moved towards the podium and stood in front of the mike. One of the student volunteers lowered the mike to fit my low stature.
I looked at all the faces in front of me. They were eagerly looking at me and somehow I felt they were expecting something special from me.
I lost all power in my legs. My legs were trembling. I was sure I was going to fall down anytime.
The only words that I felt like saying at that time were “can somebody please kill me this instant”
I figured I couldn’t say that.

“Good morning”
I remembered that Swami Vivekananda had once addressed the gathering during one of his speeches in America as “Brothers and sisters”. Should I start that way? I realized this was not the time to think about it.

“Good …….morning…..friends”, I blurted out.
“And parents”, I added as I saw the parents at the back.
“And judges”, I suddenly remembered that the judges were looking at me very attentively from the side.
Shouldn’t the judges be addressed first in any elocution competition? Damn!! I forgot it.
Thank fully my English teacher was not there. Or else I would have been instantly turned to ash by her looks.
On second thoughts, I realized that would have been more preferable than what I was going through.

My heart was beating at a rate, which I had never felt before.
“We have gathered here, on this wonderful day for the competition, on…..”
I forgot the topic.

“To talk about…...”
I suddenly remembered the topic.

What kind of a ridiculous topic is this anyway???? Can’t they have something like “My School”,”My Pet” or something?

“We are here to talk about…
My mind went blank.

Humans think in terms of words and sentences and at that moment there was just a blank full sheet paper in my mind screen.

God !!! That was the most humiliating moment of whatever little life I have lived.
Not to mention the confusion I was going through.

After a few seconds of silence I decided to speak out at last.
“Thank you very much………”
These were the only words that came out of my mouth.

The audience was stunned. They were blinking at me as if they were struck by a lightning.
I think they were not sure what to do. They wouldn’t have expected anything like this to happen.
I was looking at the floor for sometime and to cover myself from the glare of the onlookers, I started to head towards my place ever so slowly.
“Ramanujam”, one of the judges called out.
“Are you done???”
“I ……. I am………Yes,iam done”

He didn’t speak for a while.
“hmmm……Please collect your certificate”

The participation certificate!!

Should I receive it? Haven’t I irreparably damaged the name of my school?? Haven’t I brought disrepute to my English teacher whom I admire and respect so much?? Haven’t I made a mockery of this event by being a complete idiot amidst all these serious minded contestants who have prepared for this competition meticulously??

All these questions were too much for a simple kid of fifth standard, who grew up in a silent suburb without much exposure.
I walked towards the person who was handing out the participation certificates. I was looking at the floor all the while. I sensed that there was hesitation from the person. I saw him uneasily looking at the judge as I looked up. He found the certificate with my name in the heap and pulled out to give to me.
“XYZ matriculation??” he enquired as he tried to verify whether he had the right certificate.
My heart was crushed. I had let my school down.
I rushed back to my seat without looking at anyone and sat in my place with my head hung low. I tried hard to make sure the tears don’t drop on the certificate.

After two more contestants had their chance, a break was announced. Not surprisingly, I was the first one to leave the room. I ran away from the place before anybody could see me.
That was the day; I decided that I would never make any presentation ever again.


Things have changed a lot since that unforgettable day. I haven’t become a master of public speaking but things are a lot better now.
I was asked to prepare a presentation for a meeting in which my entire department was participating with just one day’s notice. My department spanned over a lot of locations including Bangalore and Croydon (UK). The folks in the other locations were to be connected via videoconferencing.
There was the same nervousness when I got my turn to speak.
But the presentation went well.
My speech got a mention in the closing note given by the department head and I even got an appreciation from my PM. I received congratulation mails from friends who hadn’t been in touch for a while.
I smiled as I “shift deleted” my replies to those mails. I can only think of the incident that happened one cloudy day when I was studying in my fifth standard.

Errors and exceptions, highs and humiliations are all part of life. If I had assumed wrongly that I could never do a decent presentation, based on that day’s happenings that would have been a terrible mistake.
I can only pray to God to keep reminding me of this incident for two reasons.

Firstly I can remember it during my good times and don’t let my success to make me proud.
Secondly I can remember it during my bad times and realize that things can always improve no matter how bad it looks.

The End


Sen said...

Nice narration Ramanujam,
ofcourse with a good moral(?!)

peri said...

Oh man...shoot, I can put myself in ur shoes....such an embarassing situn.

Great CVR.
I like the moral.

CVR said...

Senthil and Peri!! :-)

Anonymous said...

nice narration!Hey you should be a professional writer one day.I am not kidding.It is good story!I like the moral values in it.I am also a victim of public speaking!hehe