This article has been submitted by Soham Banerjee for the CLATGyan Blog Post Writing Competition. If you think this article is a good read, ‘Like’ this article on Facebook (the button is at the bottom of this piece) or post a comment using the ‘comments’ section below.
The curtains rose. A huge round of applause reverberated around the auditorium. The excitement in the audience was palpable. The finalists were on the stage- Eveline Parker of University of Arts, Gilma Rose of Cripps University, Ryan Dexter of Gosling Imperial College and me, Rajan Padmanujan of Indian Institute of Legal Studies. The moderator introduced us all one by one. The three other finalists were all from London and considering the event was being conducted in one of the grandest auditoriums of the empire; the crowd was completely behind them. I didn’t expect to get the reception that my fellow colleagues received. I was the odd one out, the outsider amongst the crème de la crème of the British Empire.
I could almost imagine my mother back home In India sitting by the Television and conducting ceremonies, perhaps even putting a garland on it while Father chastised her on the perils of believing in such practices and simultaneously kept an eye on the television, waiting for the broadcast to begin. I wondered about my acquaintances back at IILS, about our late night practice sessions and grueling arguments. I was certain they were already in the commons, glued in front of the idiot box. Tonight was going to be all about them. I had survived six rounds of making nuanced arguments. I was holed up at the airport for one whole day due to the winter fog. I had spent the last night in a dingy apartment, without sleep and without coffee. Nothing more could go wrong. I was well prepared and more importantly, no one really gave me a chance. I was the underdog and in a battle of wits, the underdog always had his nose ahead.
“Good Evening ladies and gentlemen” boomed the voice of the moderator, resonating across the colossal auditorium. “Today, the global community has transformed into a Global Village. With increased interdependence on Technology, transfer of goods and services beyond the physical borders of human existence has become much simpler” he continued confidently. “The members of this global village need each other more than ever in contemporary times. In a world of such a co-dependent nature, sharing of resources, development of cordial relations and extension of support during difficult times assumes greater significance when put in the larger context. Our African brothers and sisters need us ladies and gentlemen. In a country ravaged by war and destruction, poverty and destitution, they are looking towards the rest of the global community to help them out of this troubled state of affair. Words have the power to heal and when spoken with compassion and empathy often provide solutions to the most complex of problems. A shoulder to rest upon is what our African brothers and sisters desire, two square meals a day is what they want. They need our support ladies and gentlemen. They need to be healed of the trials and tribulations they have encountered as part of the African nation. And these four young minds here on stage are going to present their perspectives to it- ‘The African Saga: A lost cause?’”
The moderator exited the stage but his thoughts lingered. I was speaking against the motion of the house. And I believed in my argument. That was half the battle won. Coming from a land which was under the rule of this very nation, I felt a surge of patriotism swell up within me and infused a renewed sense of determination to be glorious at the end of the night. How ironic indeed! At that moment, I lost track of the bigger picture. I was consumed in my own materialistic desire of emerging victorious and proving a point. In a matter of 15 minutes, I was to learn that there was no point to prove. It was about my belief which got drowned in the sudden surge of egotistic sentiments that had engulfed me momentarily. But more on that in 15 minutes…
The moderator in the meanwhile had briefly explained the rules for the debate. Eveline was paired up with me on the opposing counsel with Ryan and Gilma teaming up to speak for the motion. Each speaker had a maximum time limit of 5 minutes to complete his speech. There were going to be no rebuttals from the fellow participants but questions from the judges and the audience at the end. The participants would be judged on their Intonation, Content, Presentation and Clarity of Thought. The judging panel comprised of eminent socialists who were actively involved with resolving the African crisis. The participants were given a 3 minute headstart to go over their final notes and summarize their arguments.
“It is time for some answers now ladies and gentlemen” interjected the moderator as we were ruffling through our notes. “Is the African Saga indeed a lost cause? Let’s find out. Our first speaker of the day, speaking for the motion of the house is Ryan Baxter!” A thunderous and unending round of applause followed. There were even some ‘Ryan’ chants in the distant corner. Tall, lanky and speckled, Ryan resembled the employees of software companies back in India. He even wore a dusty gold-rimmed spectacle. His argument began on a strong note with an emphatic quote from Sir Winston Churchill and he got into a god rhythm early on. His argument was concise, impactful and mired in rhetoric. I personally felt a little less of the histrionics would have turned his good argument into a great one. The moderator introduced Eveline next and she nearly tripped on her way to the podium. The first couple of minutes of her argument were shabby at best but then she opened up and delivered an impassionate speech which moved the auditorium to tears. More applauses and chants followed. Gilma was up next and she delivered a very strong and convincing argument; the best of the day so far. She was assertive, empathetic and absolutely assured of her arguments. The judging panel seemed visibly impressed. And then, it was my turn. 15 minutes had passed. Anything could have happened in those 15 minutes. And yet it didn’t. As I walked towards the podium, confidence oozing in my stride and I adjusted the microphone, I looked straight ahead and saw a picture that possibly changed the entire nature of my argument.
In that photograph was a kid who was walking down a street naked, with a plate in his hands and tears rolling down his feeble cheeks. What was I doing? Relinquishing my chance of being a part of something wonderful to fulfill my own personal desires? In all my previous rounds, I had won because I believed I was making a change. I believed my opinion mattered. Winning a prize and making an impression was secondary. The last 15 minutes, I had devised innumerable ways to deliver my argument and connect with the audience and make them clap and cheer for me. I wanted to project a highly evolved and sophisticated image of my nation in the Empire and yet for the last 15 minutes I had been devising strategies which would defeat the very purpose. I might end up being glorious and walking away the winner but what does that do to the little kid? He won’t stop crying. Nor would he be feeded. I had nothing to lose. By making an argument that would in reality help my African brothers and sisters live, eat and smile again I could give that kid back his life. Did a few minutes of fame materialize to anything in front of a lifetime of pain and misery?
I knew this was my moment. I didn’t need to look at the typed out speech in front of me to make my point. I wasn’t doing it for Mother, Father or my friends back at the canteen in India. This was for my Brothers and Sisters in Africa; this was for that weeping and hungry child who no one bothered to console lest offer some food. This was above all, for humanity. Yes, it is possible that one voice alone could not have made a difference but it sets in motion a chain reaction hat mobilizes the entire global community and binds them together for a common cause.
I did not win that day, Gilma did. But the echo we created soon turned into a voice which spoke in unison and initiated the process of healing the scars of the African people. I had read about finding eternal bliss in books and biographies of revered saints. Walking out of the auditorium, I experienced it. It snowed that evening in London. I sat by the window and looked at the white expanse laid out in front of me. Everything looked so serene, so peaceful. I congratulated Gilma at the Airport and told her about how I would have loved to see the weeping child smile.
And sure enough a few days later, I received a mail with an image of an African child, the same child whose image was hung up in the auditorium. Only this time, he was smiling.
The child was weeping no more…