“God is great, kind and benevolent …” I muttered to myself unintelligibly as I sat among the audience. While they were listening to the speaker on stage, I was trying desperately to not forget the words of my own speech. It was the final day of a 6 week long Personal Development program at Brain Power Institute, Dubai. I would’ve been playing video games or cricket with my brothers in the summer if Dad hadn't had other ideas. “Public speaking is an important skill, he’d say. “Besides you’ll have fun with all your new friends!”

My reverie was broken as the speaker on stage continued his speech. “He made it look so easy” I thought to myself. “Why was I so nervous ? I had practiced with dad only a zillion times — there’s no way I’d mess up, right ?” “Wrong! Practiced a zillion times ? What if you mess up after all that ?” I could hear the taunts already “You’re Mr Gangadharan’s son ? How come you didn’t get any of his speaking genes ?”

“Mone” (Son), Dad would say every time I practiced in front of him, “You’ve got this. Just feel the words and they’ll come to you. Let it flow, you don’t have to use the exact words we practiced, you’ll find a way to string them together.” I turned around to look at him. Sure enough, he was there, about 6 rows behind with all the other parents seated at the back, beaming, nodding, thumbs up.

“Next up is Anoop Gangadharan from 6th grade, Indian High School. Please welcome him to the stage” boomed Prof. C.F. Josephs clear voice as he continued hosting the evening effortlessly. Even after 6 weeks under his tutelage, I was no less in awe of his stage presence than I was on my first day. I turned around once again. Dad was clapping along with everyone else. He slowed down and motioned me to breathe. I understood, or at least I thought I did.

I ambled up towards the stage, clad in my green shirt, buttoned at the neck, and black jeans. I must look ridiculous. Look at all these good looking teens. What am I even doing here among them ? The clapping died down, I stepped up on stage towards Prof. C.F. Josephs outstretched hand. He smiled knowingly as he shook it, what exactly I couldn't tell, but it was reassuring nevertheless. I turned to face the audience, and breathed.

“God” I began, “is great, kind and benevolent. In his generosity, he has given us fresh air, clean water, rich green plant life and bountiful wildlife.*For us, our children and our children's children*” Are we leaving behind enough for them ?” I asked, scanning the audience and catching Dad mouthing the words with me. “Enough of fresh air, clean water and a clean environment ? I’m afraid not”.

The next 2 minutes whizzed by as I found rhythm and comfort in gestures while course correcting my stumbles. I had gotten through it! Flailing arms, squeaky intonations et all ! As I walked back to my seat, I only had eyes for Dad’s nods amid the customary applause from the audience and friendly high fives from my course mates. As the final speaker of the day finished up, we finally had a chance to grab dinner and catch up with family. Dad was proud and that was all that mattered. He had put in a lot of time to write that speech and help me emote with it as I practiced in front of him first and then with mom and brothers too.

Before long, Professor Joseph was back up on the stage, lauding the exceptional performances he had seen and congratulating the cohort on how far they had come. He wasted no time in tensing up the audience for the big reveal — the prize winners of the evening. Would be nice to have something to show for the effort I thought to myself. Third prize goes to …… Ah too, bad fingers crossed for second :, “second prize goes to Menna Saju”. What ? Menna was incredible, she should’ve won. Ah well, I suppose that’s that — nothing to take home tonight. Ah heck, was a fun night anyway.

And the first prize goes to .. … Anoop Gandharan. It took me more than a moment to register what I had just heard. “Wait, there’s got to be a mistake.” I thought to myself. “There were loads of better speakers than me.” I looked around at the applauding audience, still unsure. But as I met Professor Joseph’s unmistakably directed gaze, I stood up. This was really happening ! I walked up to the stage once again, shook hands with the Professor and collected the certificate from the Commercial Consul of the Indian Consulate, raising it up towards Dad and family before meeting them at the back.

“We rated the students on the biggest improvement over these 6 weeks”. Professor Joseph clarified. “So if your child was a great speaker to start with, please don't be disheartened.” This day will forever be etched in my brain as a defining moment…..

With social media, relatives, friends, colleagues and cohort all giving you the impression that the world, life and others are whizzing past you, its easy to feel like you’re getting left behind. It helps to remember that you’re on your own journey and all that matters is your own growth in areas you deem important to yourself.

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