Crucible Experiences – 2
I was in the ninth standard in school and contested the elections for the school captain. While there was competition, I hoped my academic record and being a favourite with the teachers would see me through. As part of the elections process, all candidates had to talk about their ideas and plans to the school general assembly. I still remember that day. I had written a nice two-and-half-page speech and memorised it because I didn’t want to be seen reading it. My turn to talk came.
I started my speech. And then, my mind went blank. Standing in front of a thousand students, suddenly, something gave way. I forgot my words. I rambled a little, and then walked off the stage. The elections were as good as over for me.
That was the time I realised the importance of public speaking. It didn’t matter how good one thought one was, or how good one’s ideas were. If one could not communicate them in public, it didn’t matter. My academic brilliance could not teach me how to speak on a stage. I had to change that.
During the summer vacation that followed, I enrolled at the Indo-American Public Speaking course. At just under 15 years, I was by far the youngest in the group of 25. As the days went by, my public speaking abilities improved. In the competition held at the end of the course, I came first, with a speech on Circles. The cup I won that day is still a treasure for me. More than anything, I had also set aside some internal ghosts. That was my first crucible experience.
My second crucible experience was in my first semester at IIT-Bombay. As a topper in school and college, I expected to do very well academically. I eschewed all other extra-curricular activities and just concentrated on my studies. As the semester ended and the grades came out, I realised that my best efforts were just not good enough to top in a world of equals. I had to confront the reality that I was not going to be in the top few, an experience I had not gone through my entire academic career so far.
It was time for some soul-searching during the December break. I diverted my mind by working as a volunteer for the youth festival, Mood Indigo. And in that, I came into my own. I discovered a side of my personality that I hadn’t thought existed: doing something beyond academics and excelling at it. My work was appreciated. I stood for elections in my hostel (for Literary Secretary) and against all odds, won. I had found my calling. Academics took somewhat of a back seat, as I played an increasing role in student activities. In my final year, I was elected unopposed to one of the highest posts: General Secretary (Cultural).
The first semester experience helped me develop a more well-rounded personality by the time I graduated. I discovered a world beyond the classroom. It was then that I learned that an infectious enthusiasm can more than make up for lack of deep knowledge. Much of my entrepreneurial passion has its birth in the four years that I spent at IIT.