This is the text of my P10 speech at Toastmasters. With this, I am eligible to get my Competent Communicator certificate from Toastmasters International.
Toastmaster of the day, fellow toastmasters and guests, a good evening to you all. When we talk about great achievers, women achievers, we take names of Indra Nooyi, Aishwarya Rai, or Kalpana Chawla. Today I am going to tell you the real life story of a great achiever you have never heard of – Uma Bhushan. As a prelude to that, let me tell you the story of the journey of the Hebrews to the Promised Land.
The Hebrews or Jews were slaves in Egypt and Moses is said to have lead them across the desert to the Land promised to them by God. It is said that Moses lost his way and was going round and round in the desert. For 40 years. Do you know that the real distance was only 20 kms. Then why did it take them took them 40 years? Friends, I believe that it was not a physical journey of 40 years, but a psychological journey to shed slavery in our attitudes and thinking patterns takes a lifetime to shed. A lifetime of 40 years.
My own 40 years of journey is something like that. I was born to slavery – psychological and emotional slavery to age old patriarchial Tamil Hindu Brahmin thought processes. About genders and families. My father is a dyed in the wool patriarch. To this day, for him, a son is essential. And daughter is incidental. He used to keep repeating a Tamil saying – onnum illadhadhukku oru ponnu”. I was born as a first child, a daughter to such a man. My gender closed several doors for me at birth.
I was to do a BA in English and since teaching is a profession conducive for family, I could become a school teacher by taking an BEd. Whatever money he could spare for me was to be spent on the wedding. As per calculations of those days, that would have meant he could buy for me an AG’s office clerk as husband. I wanted to learn to sing and dance; knit and draw. He would say, why does a housewife need to know all these things? Just learn what you need – cooking and house keeping. I have never worn a salwar suit or a skirt or a frock as long as I was with him.
I was so ashamed of my regressive life that I never made close friends. In every single thing that I disagreed with him, he used to say, “I am the one feeding you. As long as you eat off me, you have to be and do what I say”.
My mother came from a woman-friendly family. Her parents were supportive of her aspirations. She held a government job 50 years ago. Marriage to my father was so tormenting for her that she had attempted suicide thrice – when I was 2 years, 10 years and 25 years old. She needed help which she never got. She was maniac depressive. My father used to get physically violent with my mother and I was scared that he would turn on me too if I crossed him too far. Medically, depressive tendencies are hereditary. My sister and I have our bouts of depression all the time.
In such a hopeless situation, I managed to do two things because they were free – cycling and public speaking. During one of our three day visits to my mama’s place in Erode, I asked him to help me learn cycling. The renting charge was Rs 3 per hour. Don’t laugh. I learned to cycle in 2 days which gave me mobility. I have gone from cycle to scooter to car. I learned to drive a car at 42 years.
I competed in all sorts of speaking competitions during my college because I could do only that. I lost in most. There was no Toastmasters 25 years ago and even if there was, I couldn’t have afforded it. My Principal made be Debating Secretary of our College Student Council not because I won many but for my spirit to compete.
25 years ago, I am a teacher, like my father said. Not in the neighbourhood school but in a Business School in Mumbai. I don’t teach English grammar but managerial principles and communication strategies to the brightest engineers in this country. I have achieved this without any professional qualification. I completed my PhD in record time of 3 years after my first child. The highest qualification in my family to this date, including all the men put together. From next week onwards, I am going to teach a class of students from 25 different nationalities at Singapore. I was selected by three deans – Britishers and Australians with the best of education from places like Oxford and Cambridge.
In marriage too, I have married a government servant, like my father said. But not a file pushing clerk in the Accountant General’s office. I married a scientist who works on India’s nuclear programme. He married me for myself, for who I am. Not as my father’s daughter. I found for myself a man who respects me and gives me my space.
I have come back to public speaking with Toastmasters. This is the last project of Competent Manual. But just the beginning of my public speaking journey.
All I want to say is that The Jews made 20 kms in 40 years. The distance is not important as what that distance signifies. I have travelled far from where I started or where I was destined for. We can overcome any odds in our lives if we really want to. Success is to be measured in comparison to where you started from.
I had to be my own Moses. You can cross your desert, whatever it is. Only if you can be your own Moses.
Over to you Toastmaster.