If ‘all the world’s a stage’ was true for Shakespeare, ‘all the Stage’s a world’ has become the truth of my life. Between the first step on Stage and the last, there exists a life of staggering beauty. Unlike life, this one never admits death. It stays on. The Stage’s world is home and food for this tiny, eternal life. A certain roofless thrill is its water, and the constant reverberations of the heart within is its air. It never goes unlived, unfilmed or unseen, as it always has an audience. In this life, time becomes timeless, senses become senseful, words become priceless and voice becomes the nectar for the audience’s mind and soul. I have known this life for some time now.
Last week, when the opportunity to be a speaker at XIMB knocked at the door, I was genuinely thrilled. The information about the audience- 300+ MBA-1 students- only added to the excitement. ‘Importance of Personal Stories in Public Speaking’ was the theme, 30th June was the date. Until 28th was marked off on the calendar, I wasn’t quite sure about my content. On 29th however, I realized that some seriousness wouldn’t harm my health. I would deliver a demo speech at first, I decided. The logic underneath was quite simple- You dictate what to do after you have shown how it’s done. Some narcissism can be avoided here, I agree. The fact that my audience was going to be MBA-grads kept me grounded. I did some solid research, assembled all of it in a presentation, and convinced myself that I had done all that could have been done before slumber absorbed me. After a couple of hours, I woke up to the usual sound of the alarm, the usual sight of sunlight streaming into my room from the half-curtained windowpanes and an unusual feeling of light excitement. I thought of some more content, practiced hastily, and then got ready for the event. Wearing the new blazer embellished my spirits and appearance alike. There’s a vast difference in how you feel when you look great and you know it, compared to the one where you look great but you’re not aware of it. The former acts like weed, makes you an unstoppable force of confidence to be reckoned with, while the latter doesn’t quite make or break anything, frankly, it does nothing. That morning, I belonged to the former category. After an inconsequential breakfast, I climbed into my car with an air of nervous happiness, put my right foot on the rightmost pedal below, and in no time my Ignis was squeezing past the office-time traffic of Chandrasekharpur. Five of us, speakers, Toastmasters and also good friends, on reaching the main gate of XIMB were greeted and warmly welcomed by the Speakup team, the oratory club of the b-school. Once escorted to the auditorium, my eyes were gifted with a sight, that every speaker worth his salt dreams of- a jampacked audience. Soon, I took my seat. I had to go first.
The show began. The host started reading out our profiles. When I heard mine, something struck me. A computer science undergrad delivering a talk in front of 300+ MBA students – What the fuck was I getting in to, I thought. It was known to me since the beginning, but the gravity of it dawned on me only then, in that eerie moment where sound waves in the air traveling at 330 m/s chanted my name, my introduction- how I was passionate about writing, the string of awards, the glory, blah blah. But something in me stirred violently. ‘Why had I taken it up? Because it was a new challenge. A bigger one. This is the moment you fool. Let’s do it! Let’s win over the hearts of these MBA grads. Let’s do it then!’- with this swimming in my head, I was jolted back to life, the Stage life, the one I can’t live without, at least from now on.
I went onto the Stage, put on the microphone, sold aspirations, and fell in love with the Stage all over again. I spoke for nearly half an hour. The Stage life hypnotized the audience into an almost interactive trance, and each cell in my body thrived in that moment the way MSD does in the final over. In that moment, I could feel how my love of Stage was being reciprocated. It was as if the stage was fighting the universe to keep me on it. For that little extra time, for that soothing music of a voice, for that one more round of applause, for that resounding ‘yes’ from the audience, for that feeling of unmistakable life it felt under the weight of a tall boy-becoming-man in an off-white blazer who was spewing honey all over it. In that moment, the Stage showered on me a love so profound and unique, that no human was capable of giving me.
To put it succinctly, I aced it. I mesmerized my audience. It was informative, interactive and also, magical. The audience wouldn’t get that package anywhere else, I was convinced. As I write, I feel the conviction has sustained. But I must tell you, the hangover of the Stage is so mighty that under its umbrella of influence, sometimes people have the tendency of basking in self-glory. But, I digress.
This love story between me and the Stage hasn’t always been smooth sailing though. Unlike usual affairs, our initial phase was marked by more struggles than bliss. At first, an overwhelming nervousness would sweep over me the moment I stepped onto the Stage. I didn’t quite enjoy the feeling. The Stage showed its reservations at having a nervous rookie. It seemed like it was ashamed of hosting a tentative speaker like me. But somebody in my life could sense the chemistry between us that both of us failed to see. That somebody was the superwoman of my life, my mom. She ignited in me a passion for public speaking so fierce that, that would keep the flames alive without any external stoking. Little did I know her encouraging me to take part in an Odia debate competition in class 3 would nudge me to smell the trails towards this glorious relationship that we now share, the Stage and me.
I won third place in that competition. But Stage fright was real. The nervous rookie was still breathing in me. Growing up, I would have nightmares the night before a speech or an anchoring stint. But I would do it. Sometimes I did brilliantly, while on other occasions, I fared like the Mirchi bomb. The bomb never shouts guaranteeing it will give out a blasting sound. But we just expect. People had unreasonable expectations. I chose to ignore some of it. Mom lent a helping hand here too. I, the Mirchi bomb, learned an important lesson of being happy with trying standing on stage and giving it a shot. The erratic result mattered a bit less. Not that it didn’t. All through this, my mom was happy as long as I tried. And I would do just that, grab every opportunity to be on Stage and try.
This went on for a few years before one fine morning(movies have spoiled my imagination), I realized I was the brightest star of my school. I was a fucking rockstar- academics, sports, Stage and love. I had it all a teenager could have ever asked for. And yet 10th class opened my eyes, or rather the time after it. Complacency crept into three of the above four things. Acads seemed easy to me. Scoring way below my potential, I topped school. Basketball had kind of stopped producing interesting challenges. In love I was the obstinate dreamer, one who couldn’t visualise life without her. I was merrily riding along. But one thing that challenged me even then was the Stage. It always seemed to be collapsing at my feet, and yet when I tried it, it would remind me of my limitations. Republic Day debate competition of Std 10th was a gentle reminder like many others the Stage so frequently gifted me. I wasn’t paying heed of late. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I had forgotten that the Stage was as much of an art as it was a craft. The craft of Stage is to be honed regularly. I hadn’t done that. That day, I didn’t win a podium finish. I cried.
The Stage is a great leveler. I will always be grateful to it as much for all the admiration I have received, as for the important lesson of humility it so gracefully taught me.
Eschewing romanticism, I tell you, there is far more victory in losses than in winnings, in the long run. I have failed so many times at public speaking which the world is not aware of. The world sees my Facebook and Instagram, my wooden cabinet showcasing the glitter of my conquests. But what it inevitably fails to see is the bottomless disappointments the love story with Stage has brought me in this long, arduous journey. The book of innumerable lessons I have learned from Stage.
In 2016, I joined CET, a place where unkempt greenery is passed off as infrastructure, a tepid govt. institution with a negligible culture of Stage that didn’t concern the freshers. But it concerned me. Almost nobody else around me loved the Stage as much as I did. But how anybody could? It required a sense of utmost devotion, purity. I gave the Stage that. Others didn’t. My love of Stage guided me. I was fortunate enough to do so many hostings, winning awards, Toastmastering, winning some more in the last three years. I have been on Stage for a duration that outdoes the time I have sat in front of a computer screen.
Toastmasters and TMCC have strengthened my love of Stage very much. But to spend just a few lines on them would be a matter of shame for me. They will be inked in an exhaustive manner some other time.
Coming back to Stage. Our love for each other has grown over the years. I have learned to absorb its pressure and enjoy it a lot more, while it has adapted successfully over the years to my increasing weight, learned to have an orgasm with my voice and to tell me ‘it’s okay’ on a bad day. The other day, I was thinking of getting married to the Stage. I asked Stage with this heightened emotion if it was willing to do the same. It replied-‘But what would that change Dibyajit? Aren’t we already married in a way? We make love so often and have even given birth to so many words, hand gestures, speeches, shows. Marriage is not a label for us to chase. We are an eternal thing, you dickhead!’. The answer was satisfactory. Yes, we were married. In fact, my normal life and Stage life have merged. They are no more separate entities.
Recently, I read this marvelous book, ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. There, the narrator, a true butler in 20th Century England ponders over the question ‘What makes a great butler?’. He concludes it’s not the skill or the flamboyant English. Rather, a great butler is one who wears the uniform of his profession all the time. He is allowed to undress this uniform only when he’s alone. By extension, have we found a definition for ‘a great speaker’? I would say, as of now, I am not qualified enough to comment on that. But I would surely want to test the idea- a great speaker is not the one with topnotch skills or swanky language, but one who wears his eloquence all the time in humility and service.
For now, I am happy with Stage. It really loves having me around. But I will let you in on our little secret. Stage is a little naughty. When I do well, it gives me all the love, but when I don’t, even now, after a decade of love-making, it believes that our love will only strengthen if it teaches me a lesson or two every now and then. A perfect housewife mentality to keep husband’s waywardness in check, I shout. But deep down I know I don’t really need to worry. It is just Stage’s way of keeping the most essential quality of a speaker alive in me, humility. After all, that has kept the child, the learner, and the lover, alive in me. Oh Stage, Oh Stage, you’re wonderful!