‘Good morning, Sir. This is Mr Deep Roy, the Principal of India International,’ the gentleman continued unctuously. ‘I once had the great good fortune of teaching you here, Sir.’
I remembered how he had suspended me from school for sleeping in his class.
‘Yes, of course, Mr Roy. How are you?’
‘I’m fine, Sir. We will be holding our Senior School Elocution contest next Tuesday, Sir. We would be extremely grateful if you consent to be our Chief Guest.’
‘Done!’ I said briefly.
A respectful hush fell in the auditorium as they ushered me to my seat. Over the microphone, Mr Roy introduced me to the audience as a business magnate, a treasured alumnus and a role model for the present generation of youngsters. Then the elocution contest began. It struck me that the students were still reciting the same pieces that we ourselves used to recite so many years ago—The Daffodils, The Seven Ages of Man, The Highwayman, Antony’s funeral speech from Julius Caesar…. They were saying it well, but there was so much faked emotion in their bearing that it scared me a bit. I prize genuineness, and I wondered how much scope there was for it in our education system. Would one be allowed to dislike a poem in the syllabus, for instance? I crossed my hands over my chest and tried my best not to doze off….
‘We’d now like to request our honourable Chief Guest to address us/ the School Captain announced.
I shook off my languor, walked up to the stage, adjusted the microphone, and congratulated all the participants in the usual trite manner. I said the expected things about how, twenty years ago, it would not have occurred to me in my wildest dreams that I would be standing there one day delivering this speech. I spoke about how the spirit of participation was more important than winning or losing…and then, telling myself that it was time for some home truths, I added, ‘Back in our days, we were delivering the same speeches and the same poems as you did today.
It is as if Time has stopped here, as if nothing worthy of recitation has been composed in the last two decades. But, of course, that is far from the case: beautiful poems have been written, stirring speeches have been given. It’s just that we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into a rut. We must climb out of it and move on. There must be a harmonious blending of the old and the new. That is what progress is about….’
There was thunderous applause. A successful man can get away with anything!