“Thump… thump… thump… drump… DUMB… DUMB…”
My heart was lambasting me. I was standing alone on a podium. My school, sorted height wise into neat lines, stood staring at me. I was supposed to say the ‘Message of the Day’ – ‘A sleeping fox catches no hen’, as assigned to me by Mrs. Kunar, our class teacher. What did it mean? What was so remarkable about someone not being able to sleep and catch someone else in parallel that it had to be announced to half and a quarter thousand boys and girls in the morning assembly? I wasn’t sure. What really mattered was that I had muttered the sentence under my breath all morning, and not once did it sound right. The accent sounded vernacular, the articulation crude. This was clearly not my job. And yet here I was, on my way to make a mockery of myself.
My heart was lambasting me. I ignored it, and uttered the words in haste. My school stood silent. I couldn’t look them in the eye, so I couldn’t gauge their expression. Did they hear it well? Should I repeat myself? Should I proceed straight to the school anthem? Did I remember the school anthem?
My heart was lambasting me audibly. I could’ve faked a stomach ache in the morning and missed school today. I could’ve collapsed on my way to the podium – acted unconscious for the next half an hour. I had wasted golden chances to escape this ignominy, and random words from the school anthem were now escaping my memory. The principal and the teachers stood behind the podium; I could hear them breathing. Their collective breaths pronounced their growing unhappiness with me, the class topper. I started singing the first line of the anthem and then lip-synced the rest of it along with the singing crowd. At the end of the assembly, Mrs. Kunar asked me whether my microphone had stopped working. I avoided her gaze and mumbled vague words.
I was in Class V then. In the next two decades of my academic and professional life, I would avoid almost every opportunity to face an audience. Exceptions would be few, far between and nauseous. My parents had me trained in music, and yet none of my school mates or colleagues would ever hear me singing solo. In chorus performances, I would position myself away from the microphone so that if any individual voice were to become too conspicuous, it would surely not be mine. Off periods in school would make my classmates cheerful and me wary, lest a replacement teacher should choose to pass his/her time by asking us to sing or recite. Knowledge transfer sessions in office where I was required to present would have me looking stiff and struggling to frame my sentences, and not because of lack of knowledge or experience. All these years, life and I have fancifully taken each other close to and away from triumphs and failures, love and betrayal; but my fear of public speaking has always hung around my neck – like a rock I’m married to for life.
For some time now, I’ve wanted to break this obnoxious bond. However the world I inhabited till some twenty days back was that of corporate professionals; and that’s a world where you often share your coffee break with smiling vampires. Would you want vampires hovering around your bed while your wounds get opened and operated upon? Nay!
For some time now, I’ve also wanted to reclaim my piece of the sky, where I could quietly work on myself, away from vampires and the unentertaining melee of regular cockfights. My current joblessness has helped me achieve that space.
Earlier this week, I called up some of the local Toastmasters’ clubs with an intention to join one of them. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Toastmasters is ‘a USA headquartered nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.’ (Source: Wikipedia). You could read more about them here.
You see, I’m finally ready to put myself out there, on the dreaded podium, and allow myself to stutter and mutter and forget my vocabulary in front of a live audience and bore them to death! I, a lost class topper of a long lost era, bring to myself the ignominy of failure so that I may try and take a step beyond it. Dear reader, would you wish me luck?
“And the only way to get rid of a shadow is to turn off the light. To stop running from the darkness and face what you fear, head on.” – Grey’s Anatomy
Originally published in The Ascent