( One of the winning posts of IndiBlogger’s #MyFirstExpert contest )
I was an introvert by nature (I still am, for that matter) and my mother knew it. I would sit in a corner of the classroom by myself while the other kids chatted away animatedly. My mother always wanted me to be an eloquent public speaker. I guess every mother wants that. That feeling of seeing your child on the stage, it’s just too poignant to express in words. There was just one little issue. I wasn’t one of those voluble cute kids that everyone liked to talk to. I was one of those ruminating ones, sitting by myself, thinking and observing things around me.
My mother used to teach me two words everyday. Say Yes. She drilled these words into my head. Everyday when she got me ready for school, she would tell me to ‘say yes’ to any challenge- be it an activity, contest, competition; anything that ever came up (I guess she knew that activities and contests were challenges for me). I would nod and make a mental note of not saying yes ever.
It was on that hot sunny day, one of those days you wish you had been at home, when this happened. I was in standard 3rd then. Our English teacher had chosen some kids for a story-telling contest- one from each section. The girl who was selected from our section backed out at the last minute. The teacher was in turmoil. She scolded the girl a little but didn’t know what else she could do. She then turned to another good speaker A and asked him, “Will you be able to learn this story over the weekend?”
A shook his head.
She turned to B. “What about you?”
B gave an excuse about a sore throat and backed out. The poor teacher asked ten more kids in quick succession. There were around thirty students in the class. None of them were willing to be the fall guy. Finally she announced in the classroom if there was anyone who could learn the story over the weekend and recite it on Monday. Suddenly there was pin-drop silence in the class, as though, if anyone uttered even a sound, he/she would be asked to participate. I could see my English teacher’s face falling.
“Does anyone want to take part in the contest on Monday?” she asked again, almost like a final call. It was actually a privilege call. My teacher chose the most eloquent and talented people for the competitions and to be asked by her was no less than an honour. When no one answered, or even batted an eyelid for that matter, she turned to some guy X. He too refused. Her eyes roved around the room, her best warriors gone; now she only looked for a pawn, anyone, anyone who would agree to just stand there and say a few words. It was like she was looking for someone who would agree to be made a scapegoat of, someone who wouldn’t mind being made a fool of. The students looked anywhere except at her. It was only I, who was unwittingly staring at her, wondering about the color of her saree and the color of the blackboard and how they matched so well.
“Do you want to take part, A?” Out of nowhere, I saw the question being pointed at me. I probably didn’t hear her properly or perhaps I was too thrilled to be asked by her or (and I think this might be the actual reason) my mother’s aphorism had taken root in my subconscious so well that I could hardly resist saying-“Yes ma’am”.
I saw my English teacher heave a sigh of relief, the kind of relief that results from having found someone to send to the gallows. Only when I received the four-page story did I realize the extent of the predicament I was in.
When I got home and told my mother, she was so overjoyed to finally have me on stage that I didn’t have the heart to narrate the entire story to her of how I was chosen as the final resort more like a last expedient than a first choice for the class representative. I was just happy to see her happy, although my heart itched to think how she would feel when I would tell her on Monday that I didn’t win a thing. I was secretly glad she wouldn’t be there to see me fumble and make a fool of myself.
That weekend, my mother trained me very hard. Hour after hour, she recited the story with me, making me learn every word and narrate it with as much expression as I could muster. She knew learning a four page story by heart was not my cup of tea but she was determined to draw out my best. She was making her utmost efforts and I felt a little sad that she would be disappointed if I didn’t win anything. The fact that it was near impossible for me to remember the entire story, let alone win anything and that my competitors had been preparing since many weeks made me feel even more deflated. But I plodded on. Just to please my mother, if nothing else.
The D-Day arrived. I was frantic and my heart was beating erratically. I was not a very popular person in school but after this, I was sure everybody would recognize me. As the Fumbler, if not the Forgetter. Anyway, I went up to my English teacher. She was smiling at me. She looked happy with me. You see, sacrifice engenders faith. The sacrifice of my self-respect at the altar of my teacher’s had earned me a place in her heart. That is how I saw it that time, anyway.
There were two participants before me. The first one had fumbled on some lines and forgotten parts of his story. I felt sort of reassured. ‘I have a companion’, I thought. The second one had spoken well though, and my heart sank again. Finally it was my turn. I will not dramatize it so much. I recited it as best as I could, looking straight ahead at the red school buildings instead of my classmates and teachers.
It was a story about a shepherd who fooled the villagers time and again by calling ‘wolf, wolf!’ just for the fun of it. After a while the villagers got angry and when the actual wolf arrived, they assumed that he was poking fun at them again and didn’t come to the rescue of the repentant shepherd who was then made a meal of by the hungry wolf. Story Finished. But instead of these two lines, I had to narrate a four-page tale, replete with dialogues and details. I don’t know how I managed to finish the story; I don’t know how the details stuck, perhaps it was the way my mother had taught me to enact the wolf part or the way she had told me to jump from the hill scene to the one which had the shepherd, over to the village scene and finally to the wolf one. Whatever it was, I kept looking straight ahead and envisaged my mother making me recite those parts. It all just flowed forth thereafter. When I descended from the stage, I was relieved to see that no one was sniggering at me. After all the section participants had spoken, the time for results arrived. I had never been bothered about them before and I wasn’t bothered about them then. I had done my job.
The result? Yes, it looks like a page out of a fairytale but let me remind you that fact is stranger than fiction. I heard my name being called out and purely dazed, went up to the stage.
Mother of God! I had actually made it as a winner!
Apart from shell shocked surprise, I was ecstatic beyond belief. My English teacher had a new favorite now. But the one who was the happiest was my mother. Her jubilant smile and shining eyes were the most most beautiful things I had ever seen. When I showed her the trophy that I got a few days later, she was almost crying with joy. I think it was then that I realized how much I liked to see her smile and how much she has made me into the person that I am today. Believe it or not, I went on to take part in nearly all the elocution contests at school and managed to win almost all of them. I also became the school’s Cultural Secretary and then the General Secretary in my college. Anchoring events and speaking impromptu now came to me easily. But they would never have come to me had she not taught me those two precious words; had she not sat with me and taught me the story that day; had she not urged me to say yes to challenges. She was, she is and she will always be My First Expert! Love you Mom…
PS : Those of you who find it hard to believe this story, spare some moments to go through the attached pictures. Of course, you can ask my old school mates as well. Or just drop by anytime at my place and I will show you my laurels!