#JourneyOf1001Miles – Stick to basics!

On that specific day, I was able to walk so fast.  There’s no heavy school bag required – as per my teacher’s instructions, only the lunch bag along with a notebook and pen was all that I needed. 

The one mile walk from my house to the school, which usually takes me approx. 30 minutes of time, took me just 20 minutes that day – I went to school so early with a lot of excitement!

Placing my lunch bag on one of the shelves of the classroom, I went directly to my class teacher and said, “Good morning, miss.  I’m all set for today.  When are we going to make a move?”

“Good morning.  We will make a move, soon after the assembly ends.  Make sure you are standing in one of the front rows during the assembly.  The HM will be calling you.” replied back my teacher.

Sometimes, waiting can be the most bothering thing – especially when you’re holding pressure on your side – we want to get rid of it, and release it as soon as possible.

I took the six-page draft of my speech – which I carefully folded and kept on my shirt packet, and started reading.  Some pages were about to tear because of the number of times I’ve been using it for the past one week.  I closed my ears and read the script to myself, repeated it, again and again!

Then, the assembly happened.  The March drill, songs, news, thought for the day everything.  Before we wound down our assemblies, our HM always provides us with some updates of what’s happening at our school.

Interestingly, for that day, both my friend and I are the updates.

“Two of our 5th standard students will be participating on the inter-school Tamil speech competition.  They will be visiting our mission model school today and will be representing all of us there along with our 5th standard class teacher.  Can we have both of them on the stage please?”

Both my friend and I walked slowly to the stage amidst the silence of the assembly.  The entire school closed the eyes and did a silent prayer for the success of the both of us.  And this thing, also added more pressure to us, to perform and to bring some prize back.

For the next 10 minutes, I kept on hearing these words from everyone.

“All the best.”

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“So, are you well prepared?” my friend posed a question to me, as both of us and our teacher started walking on the ‘ever-busy’ Usman Road (along with our lunch bags).

“Both of you are well prepared.  Don’t waste a lot of time speaking amongst yourself and lose your voice.  Focus on the road and walk.” – came an assertive reply from our teacher-in-charge who over-heard our discussion from the back.

She should be true; both of us were aware of the fact that voice is an important factor to a speech, we decided to keep it fresh.

After crossing a distance of half a mile through walk, in the busiest streets of Thiyagaraya Nagar (aka T. Nagar) we reached our competition destination.  The host of the competition was a Girls Higher Secondary School, one of the biggest and well known one across the city.  The buildings were so big, compared to the Govt. aided middle-school which I was from.

“Welcome to the National Youth Day Inter-School Competition”

We had an announcement board in the front of the school, welcoming all the external participants for the competition and the directions which guided us to the respective classrooms based on the competition which we are participating in.

The competitions as we know are conducted as part of the National Youth Day celebrations which happens every year on January 12, being the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.

Both my friend and I settled in the classroom of Tamil Speech competition – to our surprise, we were already able to see our names written on the black board along with the other participant names from different schools. 

But there’s one thing which made me, even more surprised – the first name on the list of participants from the host school.

I immediately reached out to my friend. “Hey, did you look at the first name on the participants list?”

He looked me with a puzzling face, and immediately turned to the board.

“Akilanda Parameswari.” he read out loud reading the Tamil text from the board.

“Yes. That’s the name.” I replied back.

“Do you know that person before?” he posed a question.

“Oh, nothing like that.  This is the first time I’m seeing such a name. I’m really concerned.” Before I finish off my sentence, my friend jumped in.

“Concerned of what?”

“I’m concerned with the fact that in case if the person goes out to book a train ticket, the number of text boxes on the challan will not be sufficient for such a long name.” I shared my observation with my friend.  I remembered seeing train ticket booking challan when I was traveling all the way to Chennai from my village.  Back then, we used only first names to address people, and I don’t come across any such longer first names usually.

My friend was no more replying to me.  He gave me an angry stare and then went to look into his script.

I did the same too.  We were made to sit on the floor along with the other participants on the entrance of the room.  Behind us were some students from the host school, our audience for today – and then our teachers were at the back of the room.  In front of us, there was the black board, microphone and judges, who are sitting on the chairs carefully listening and evaluating to our speeches.

There was a welcome note from the host school HM, the judges and the teacher-in-charge of the competition from the host school.  It was a comfortable and a welcoming environment, I felt settled finally.

But at that moment, I never released in another few minutes – adrenaline will be pumping on my body.  No one can ever settle in a competition that you want to win!

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If you actually look at a speech technically (especially the ones delivered at a school level), you will be able to easily identify the different parts of it.

The different part of a well written speech is very similar to work of an automobile.  First you start off– by introducing yourself, your class, your school, the topic on which you will speak, then you use the clutch and control the engine – you add context to the topic, trying to make some connection to the audience, slowly move to the first gear – you start making your points one by one and when in control, advance your gears and accelerate more.  Then as you move towards the conclusion point, you try and reach your top gear and cross the line with the maximum speed, by sharing some of your best thoughts, quotes, and references.  That’s how you make the best impact on the audience.

Way back a 10-year old kid, I don’t know so much about speech writing.  What I know, is what’s written on the script and how I practiced, that’s pretty much it.

In the list of participants, my friend’s name was placed at the last.  My name was placed right above him, 8 more people were ahead of both of us, which means that we have to wait and also listen to the other speeches before we go in.  Waiting can be a bothering thing!  

The first speaker went in.  She was from the host school.  As expected from the host students always, she delivered the best speech on that day.

Also for the first ever time, I witnessed someone using so much of hand gestures and facial expressions in a speech – with an amazing voice modulation, she kept the complete hold of the stage.  For every point that she was making, there was acknowledgement from the audience through an applause or a nod. 

All of us were allocated with 6 minutes of time for our respective speeches; I never realized how all that time went.  Before she completed her speech, the time bell rang! It was an uncompleted speech – that started and ended on the top gear!

For a moment, I felt amazed.  Wow! There are so many things that we can incorporate to make a speech, exciting!

Then the next person came in.  This time too, the speaker was using so much of hand movements, facial expressions, voice modulations etc.

I felt a bit weird – both my friend and I, we don’t know such things.  We practiced for a plain speech on the high tone of voice, with a stern facial expression and our hands crossed to each other in the front, very similar to the pose of Swami Vivekananda.

That’s how our teacher taught us.  That’s how we practiced for weeks.

But, I had other ideas on mind.  What if we improvise? What if we also do hand movements and exaggerated facial reactions like them? I wanted to check this with my friend.

“That’s no way possible.  We have to ask our teacher before we make any improvisation”, he told me straight away. 

He was right.  Our teacher is the one who trained us.  We have to seek her permission.  That made sense.  But she was sitting right in the back. 

As asking her is the only way out for us in this problem – I requested for an excuse to the teacher in-charge, stood up slowly and walked towards her.

Looking at me coming towards her, with a smiling face, she spoke to me first.

“What happened, kid? Do you want some water?”

“Actually, no miss.  I want to get your permission for something.” I told in a murmuring voice.

“Hmm. Okay. Go ahead and ask” she replied back with a puzzling expression. 

“Miss! Did you see the other participants speaking? They are doing it wonderfully.”

“Yes.  They are. So nice to see!” she replied back.

“I think they are doing it wonderfully because they are using hand movements, voice modulations etc. Can we both try it as well?” Finally I ended up conveying my request.

My teacher’s expression changed all of a sudden.  With a steady face, she replied back to me.

“No. Stick to basics.”

“Miss! I know that we haven’t practised in the way.  But, look at every participant – they are doing their speeches so elegantly.  I think we should also try to be like them.”

There was a steady reply again, “No. You both – stick to basics.  Deliver the speech in the same way you practised. No improvisation required.”

I was totally surprised.  I continued the conversation – “The same way with both the hands crossed? I don’t think it will look well at all.  We won’t stand on this competition if we stick to the basics.  If we want to win, we must do some improvisations.”

My teacher has lost the patience.  She took me outside the classroom, looked at me face-to-face on my eyes and said.

“Listen.  I won’t repeat this again.  I know this is a competition.  But, I don’t want to see any improvisations now.  Do the speech in the same way as planned and as rehearsed.  Be yourself.  Stick to basics. That’s all about it.”

There was nothing more I can say.  Within me, all my hopes were crushed.  I can’t push this anymore.  I had to listen to my teacher who trained me, taught me and provided me with this opportunity.  I don’t used to be a rebel kid.

I nodded my head and went all the way to the front of the room. I noticed a speaker making an interesting speech, with hand movements.  I accepted the fact that I can’t do any of such things.

Back there was my friend, waiting to hear from me. 

“Did you ask our teacher?  What did she say about improvisations?”

I showed him a thumb down and looked away. 

He caught my palms and asked me, “What does that mean?”

I replied in a desperate voice, “She told no improvisations.  Stick to basics.”

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 5 minutes and 52 seconds.  I paced my speech perfectly within the provided time.  I felt super relieved and happy after completing my speech, without missing any elements on the six page draft, as planned.  My teacher should be very happy by now.

There was a lot of pressure relieved from my side– I felt like the burden of my school was on my shoulders.  Being done with your part, that too perfectly, is a great thing!

My friend went next and he spoke really well as well.  We two are the only people who spoke in a plain way, with tied hands, no big facial expressions. 

“The results will be announced post the tea break”.  The judges announced and started looking at their evaluation sheets seriously.

Our teacher called both of us and appreciated.  She was looking for the results and I didn’t even understood why.  I was surprised at her level of optimism.

In my mind, we were already out of this competition.  By sticking to the basics, we never did any of the awesome things done by others.  With this level of performance, we may win in our school, but outside the school, that too with so much of competition, winning was never an option for us

But anyway, I did my part.  Now, it’s all up to the judges.  At a time of the competition, when you can’t do anything about the result, all you have to do is to wait.  Waiting can be a bothering thing!

————————————————–

“Students! We will be announcing the results now.”

The final moment everyone was wishing had arrived.  We were super curious and the entire classroom went into silence.

The microphone was passed from one of the judges to another.

“But before that we also wanted to share our rationale that we looked into for the evaluation of the speeches.”

We became super curious now.  Not all the judges will be open and keep their decision making as transparent.

“The criteria we looked into are, content, delivery style, timeliness and the way that the speaker introduced the topic to the audience. For budding speakers like you, we thought that these are the important aspects.

We had many interesting speeches with quality content and outstanding delivery style.  But, of the 10 speakers, only 4 finished within their time and out of which only one introduced the topic of the speech to the audience.”

For a moment, all the participants were surprised and we looked into each other’s faced with weird expressions, thinking about our own speeches.

I remember saying the topic’s name before starting off the speech, and I’m also someone who finished within the time.  However, I was not sure if others were doing the same.

“The third prize goes to..” The judges announced the name from a different school.  We applauded.  The winning student stood up.

“The second prize goes to..” Again, they announced the name from a different school.  There was even more clapping as the student stood up.

“And the first prize goes to..” There was a moment of surprise silence. That’s the moment everyone was waiting for.

Breaking the silence, they announced – my name. 

For a moment, I wasn’t even believing, what was happening around.  I was checking on the black board to see if there is another participant with same name.  I was confused – I didn’t choose to stand up, I was frozen.

“We request the first prize winner to stand up as well.”

That moment, I decided not to wait anymore.  I stood up. There was a thunderous clap.

The judges congratulated all the participants for our speeches and motivated us to continue speaking in more stages and compete to learn more.  They told us that the prizes will reach our schools at a later date and we can return back to our own schools.

The most interesting fact about any competition is that – it puts you on the spot, in a real tough situation. You get to perform and you get a result – sometimes you win, sometimes you learn!

I heard voices of many of the students from behind – the host audience was calling my name; I looked at them.  They all said said, ‘Congrats’.   That’s a familiar word to me, but I was hearing it for the first time ever.

So far, I’ve seen pupil saying, ‘Good’, ‘V.Good’, ‘V.V.Good’.  And I always reply to them with a smile.

Now, I was confused totally about how to respond this ‘Congrats’.  Looking at my puzzled face, my friend who’s sitting next, told me that whenever someone congratulates – you have to share them your gratitude and reply back by saying, ‘Thank you!’

I looked behind.  My teacher was standing at the back, interacting with the other teachers with a smiling face.

I immediately ran towards her, looked her on the face.

She didn’t say any ‘Congrats’ to me.  I was not surprised.  Of course, she need not do that.  She has always believed on me and trained me.  She taught me the most important lesson of life – stick to basics. I can do nothing but telling her,

‘Thank You!

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During all our journeys – be it a shorter journey or the longer journey of ‘life’, we get to explore new things.  And when we encounter new things or experiences, we have high chances of getting intimidated by others – we feel less valued comparing our lives with that of others.  And when this feeling hits us hard, all of a sudden, we hope to see our lives in a completely different way – complaining about the things that we are missing, totally forgetting the existing things that we have in the real life.

During those times – we have to consciously stick to our basics­ – with things like following our own values, our own culture, our own beliefs and uphold our self-confidence.

Because – in a way, it is ‘life’ that’s preparing us to face the future! 🙂

Reach out to the author at – [email protected] or tweet at – @aravindhan_in for feedback or suggestions!

Aravindhan

25, passionate and optimistic. Teach For India Alumnus & IEEE Young Professionals volunteer. Educator & Instagrammer!

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2 Responses

  1. Venkatraman Ravi says:

    You constantly bring a real life experience to us with your stories. Sticking to the basics is a wise idea in one’s life. We should be ourselves , not mimic other’s traits. Uniqueness matters everywhere.

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