I was very enthusiastic but nervous as well. This was for the first time I had to make a public speech. I was going to participate in a symposium at school, an event big enough to give an 11-year-old butterflies in the stomach.
Preparations had started a week before the eventful Monday. First step was to get the speech written. Like most children of my age, I believed that Papa-knows-it-all. The topic of the speech was about Allama Iqbal. All Papa knew about Iqbal was that he was a poet, wrote some philosophical stuff and was no womanizer, l ike most poets.
But papa did not let me down. He asked some academician friend of his to write me a speech. It was a long one, written in hard-core Urdu. No wonder I understood very less of it; both in terms of content as well as the language. Nevertheless, my teacher said it was wonderful. I memorized it by heart, end to end. A teacher helped me with intonations. I highlighted the lines which demanded a loud tone in blue; those that were to be spoken softly in fluorescent green. A cousin helped me with gestures. “Bang the desk when you say this; raise a brow when you say that; shake your head in disapproval over there, etc., etc.”
I practiced it all. Papa advised me to practise in front of a mirror. I obeyed like a good girl. Mummy must have heard it at least thirty times in the last three days before the symposium. I knew it bored her to listen to the same thing, again and again. But I also knew that she wouldn’t say ‘no’. She was too patient and a sweetheart as ever. ‘Very good, beta’, she said at the end of each torturing session. And every time she said it, my confidence got a boost.
The family went for a shikara ride in Dal on Sunday afternoon. It was the time for family jokes and activities. Papa had started his childhood tales. I had heard them many times over and they never seemed to lose their charm on me. But this time, I was not listening.
My mind was unconsciously recalling the speech. I banged the imaginary desk, exactly four times, as taught. No one but mummy knew what was going on inside my mind. Because when I finished my virtual speech, of course without uttering a word, she smiled and said, “Very good, beta! Now finish your ice-cream or you’ll spoil your dress.”
I slept early that night—no TV, no video games, nothing. I had to look fresh on the next morning. I dreamt of myself standing on the stage and suddenly forgetting all that I had rehearsed. This nightmare haunted me the whole night.
Next morning, I got dressed in my new school uniform, crisp and neat.
The programme started. They let the senior students speak first. Being youngest, I had to wait till the end. What other participants were saying was of no consequence to me. I completely failed to understand why the audience clapped in unison at certain points. I just kept doing what everybody else did.
At last, after what seemed to be eternity, my name was announced. I felt my legs melting away as I stood behind that tall desk. I saw our school principal looking keenly at me through her broad rimmed spectacles. Suddenly everything seemed to fade away – the audience, chairs, walls and all. I felt as if I was standing at the top of a mountain on a moonless night.
Nonetheless, I went on with my play. I had practised it so many times that I could deliver it anytime, even on a mountain peak at midnight.
The clapping sounds made me realize I had finished. The results were declared in the following half an hour. Since there was a considerable age-gap between the younger and the older speakers, judges declared the results separately for the two groups. I fell in the junior category.
Bingo! I was declared third. I was given a cute little trophy. Though I liked the larger first prize trophy, mine wasn’t bad. I was on cloud nine with my first ever trophy in the kitty. I couldn’t wait to break the news at home.
Papa and mummy were equally happy for me. To celebrate papa and me went for an outing. I was treated with my favourite ice-cream, a family-size pack of chocolates and multiple kisses and hugs. The excitement didn’t seem to fall. I was hyper-active even after the dinner. Just then mummy asked casually, “Beta! How many participants were there in your category?”
I gaily replied, “Three.”
(The writer is currently pursuing Bachelors in Mass Communication and Multimedia Productions at Government Women’s College M A Road Srinagar.)