Public speaking is considered the greatest fear a person can have, even greater than the fear of death. However research shows that a significant factor in people being promoted at work is the ability to express one's self in public or at a meeting, concisely and effectively, no matter how large the gathering. Like all mothers my mother dreamed about me having a successful career right from my childhood. So she wanted me to develop my oratory skills by participating in elocution contests since my early school days. But I did not share her enthusiasm. However events conspired to give me my first stage appearance at the age of 12 that too in a grand way in front of an audience of 5000 people in a hall amidst pin drop silence and all eyes directed towards me.
But before we get there, first things first. Let’s start off with the dull, dreary details of the school I studied in when this occurred. The school was one of those Christian Missionary schools that have been running for more than a century and believe in things such as Honor, Traditions and Discipline. Well. Or at least that’s what I believe. They had some Latin motto and an emblem having a pictures of a lion and a crow. I hope the meaning of the Latin words and the symbolism of the crow and the lion was something on these lines. Anyways whatever they meant, it is more dramatic to put it this way in a Mohabatein style. Every morning started with an hour of traditional marching and an hour of moral lessons to teach us honor. Discipline was enforced by regular strokes with the cane now and then. Over the years the teachers at the school had perfected the art of canesmanship. The canes themselves had an aesthetic appeal, being made out of the finest wood with a nice handle and slowly tapering towards the end. The teachers were able to execute masterly strokes on the student's back side with the slight flick of a wrist. It would seem so effortless that one would have to be there and experience the feel of the cane on one's backside to really appreciate the effectiveness of the methods.
As far as the marching was concerned, we were divided into 6 groups for this purpose, each one having a color and names after some Christian saint. The groups know as houses would march together. Each group was lead by a prefect, yelling 'left right left' at the top of his voice. The prefects would be alert and watchful of any sign of indiscipline. The most common case of indiscipline was trying to establish any kind of communication with the boys standing near you. The slightest noise and the prefect hauled you away to the teacher for a feel of the cane. At the end of marching we were lead to the big school hall for the chapel. The chapel consisted of singing of Hymns, retelling of parables from the bible and prayer. Sometimes there would be some announcements as well. During this entire exercise we were still under the watchful eyes of the prefects. It was at one of these chapels that I made my first public appearance. And that I did with a bang.
At that time Diwali had just ended and I happened to be in possession of a roll of roll caps used for the toy guns during Diwali. These roll cap toy guns used to be an immense source of joy for the children during Diwali times those days. I was no exception and so I always liked to carry a roll around. It so happened that someone had thrown a nice little button made of brass somewhere in the grounds and I had managed to retrieve the same. We were all seated in the hall and the chapel was about to begin. There seemed to be a slight delay. They say speech is silver, silence is golden. However extended period of silence can be quite unsettling. Not surprisingly even in prisons, they subject the worst criminals to silence by putting them in solitary confinement. It was really getting to my nerves and I began to fidget. Of course, when you’re fidgeting, nothing like a couple of objects that you can rub against each other. It is much more interesting than just rubbing your hands against each other. But it became a bit too interesting for my liking at that moment for the instant the brass button stuck the roll cap; the silence came to an abrupt end 'Boom'.
It was not long before the prefects had swooped down upon me and within moments I was on the stage in front of the whole school, the hero who abolished silence from their world. The vice principal was standing there in front of me. Though he was a master in canesmanship, this was a special occasion and needed a more personal touch. So he focused all his energy into his palm and executed a well directed slap on my face. The whole school looked on spell bound without uttering a single sound. With that my few moments on the center stage came to an end.
The silver lining on the cloud was that I had no stage fear from then on for what worse can happen on stage?
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