I would like to share a story that happened at Christ Nagar School1 where I had done my schooling in VIII C Class during the third term. The year was 1986, the year remembered for Argentina’s FIFA World Cup win under Diego Maradonna’s mesmerizing captaincy.
At the end of first term our English Teacher left because he got a job elsewhere. At the end of the second term the same thing happened with our next English Teacher too. Then our beloved Principal, Rev. Fr. Gerard Thevalasseril, a genius as well as a strict disciplinarian, himself came to teach us English even though he was known to teach history.
One day (I distinctly remember I was seated on the second bench, middle row), he asked me to read a portion of the English lesson that was being taught. I read. Before I sat down he lifted up his hand in a gesture of blessing and said, “Good reading, you are going to become an orator.”
I did not understand the word “orator.” And I did not have the courage to ask him then. We were all really afraid of him. He commanded that kind of respect from all of us.
So I went home and looked up the word in the Oxford pocket dictionary. The meaning was given as “good public speaker.” I laughed to myself and thought the Principal had gone crazy as I had never given a public speech before. But encouraged by his words I joined for a competition in school a couple of weeks later.
The topic was discipline. I started off with the Principal’s own words which he made it a point to repeat and emphasize on every Monday and Thursday morning school assembly: “Discipline is one’s ability to adjust oneself to the given situation.” Then I said some more of his famous words: “Where there is discipline there is order, where there is order, there is harmony, where there is harmony there is beauty . . .” That was all I could say. And nothing more.
It was a thunderous beginning; but I had nothing else to say. I never had a clue then that guts alone is not what is needed to speak; but that you need ideas as well.
I left the classroom where the competition was held, thinking, “Public speaking is not going to be my cup of tea!” And that was practically my first and last public speaking attempt at school.
But what I thought was not what God had planned as later events proved:
After passing out of school (SSLC) I got chances in elocution competitions in my church where too I made blunderous beginnings. The very first competition I participated in was conducted in Malayalam. Having sought the permission of the judges I spoke in English. I found myself staring at the ground after the first two minutes having run short of ideas amidst audible jeers from a youthful crowd.
And it was only towards the end of the third year at college that I found courage to participate in a debate. The next year as I finished speaking for an elocution competition in the college auditorium, one of my former classmates who chanced to witness it came rushing to me to say, “Bejoy, you wasted four years of college life!”
Later in 1996, one year after completing Post Graduation in English Literature from Mar Ivanios College (where I had the honour of being the Secretary of the Literary and Debating Forum), I started to teach public speaking.
At that time, I wrote a registered letter to our former School Principal telling him this story I am telling you now. I wrote to him that his words were prophetic: Not only did I become a public speaker but also had begun to train students in public speaking. I was so happy to receive the acknowledgement due slip to the letter (even though his once classy signature had shrunk to a small one due to his prevailing ill health then).
The point of my story is that I had never dreamt of becoming a public speaker or a trainer. But my Principal’s words proved prophetic in my life.
It became even more significant as two of my schoolmates attended my first batch of public speaking as well.
How awesome is the role a teacher can play in the life of a student, I wonder! Let me end with the words of Henry Adams:
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
1Christ Nagar English Higher Secondary School, Kowdiar, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. The incident mentioned happened in 1986.