Jeethender Singh was my classmate since we were in class 1. We were childhood aquantainces, not really friends because we weren’t that close. He was fondly known as Jeethu. We didn’t know much about each other except that I always felt he was a nice quiet boy who hardly spoke to anyone. Most of the time when we were in a group he would only smile or contribute an occasional word or two to the conversation.But that didn’t stop me from having a healthy rivalry with him when it came to studies.He was damn hard working and so was I. If he stood 1st in one exam, I would beat him in the next. Both of us would enjoy the moment when our names were read out as the class toppers though he would do it more quietly than me.
But if there was one thing that I always beat him at was the elocution competition held in our school year after year. It was a big affair in our school and every year a few students who dared to go in front of the entire school and speak on a topic that was decided one day earlier. Once we got into high school, things were made even tougher because the topics were given on the spot!. Every year I would participate and be in the top 3 in my class. Jeethu participated too. Year after year he would go on stage and fumble for words while I would breeze through my topics. It’s not that he didn’t make the effort or wasn’t good at it. It was just that when the moment came he would freeze! He wouldn’t last on the stage for more than a few seconds.
Over the years, I had seen him grow with me and now we were in class 10. While I was bold and confident and always was up for a challenge, taking up leadership responsibilities, he was still quiet and shy but very hard working and determined. There was something about his silence that made you curious about him. We called him the silent assassin because he would stand 1st in class without making a hue and cry about it, he would go about his work quietly always.
Every time there was a public speaking competition, he would practice for hours all by himself in the corner of the classroom but somehow do miserably when he got on stage. I always wondered why he would want to make a fool of himself in front of the whole school when he knew that he couldn’t speak in front of an audience. But what I did admire about him was that even though his public speaking was ridiculed, he never gave up. And this year would be his last chance to speak in front of the school because we were now in class 10. I was all excited and very determined to do well and leave a lasting image in everyone’s minds
The day finally arrived. I had practiced on various topics to be prepared for whatever I get. Jeethu was called on stage. There was a box kept in front of him with various topics written in pieces on paper inside it. He picked one up and handed to the teacher. She read out the topic on the microphone “FEAR….Jeethu will speak about fear” she said in a deep voice. He went to the microphone with a grim expression on his face.
“G…G..Good morning respected students and my co teachers” he stuttered
The crowd burst into laughter. I could see a lot of back slapping and pointing of fingers going on in the audience. Jeethu looked around, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead onto his neck and soaking his shirt which was now turning transparent from white. I saw him hold his breath.
“S..Sorry …I mean, good morning my respected teachers and my friends. Fear is something I know a lot about. Since years you all have seen me come on stage in fear and leave without saying a word. That’s because fear has been a part and parcel of my life so far. Someone once told me that fear is a false evidence that appears real. But what if the evidence was real? What if something happened in front of your eyes which made you scared? When I was in class 1, I would wonder why I wouldn’t see my father around the house much but on the days that he did come, I would wake up and see him beat up my wailing mother. He would almost always smell of alcohol on those days. I would hide behind the door and watch the scene in horror all the while not making a sound lest he hear me and beat me up too. The only escape from that fear was school where I felt safe. When he was sober, I would go over to talk to him and he would ask me to shut up. I would not speak. My mother always told me to study hard and that if I did, someday I could give her a better life. So I studied very hard. When my father abused at home I would close my ears and read my books aloud so that I could drown out his voice and my fears along with it. I tried my best to stand 1st in class just for my mother. If my father saw me reading he would come and yell at me saying that I was wasting my time. If I tried telling him that I stood 1st in class he would ask me to shut up. I was scared to speak, at home, at school, with friends. Year after year I participated in these competitions just to somehow overcome my fear but always failed…..miserably. Today ironically the topic FEAR seems to have driven the fear out of me. I’m not bothered about winning this competition, I’m just happy that I manged to speak in front of all of you without running away after the first few words! Thank you “
The students were all stunned. Some of them didn’t realize that it was over as they were still soaking in his words. A small group started to clap which grew into rapturous applause. He had tears in his eyes, so did many in the audience. He had finally conquered his fears. We hugged and all he said was thank you……
Someone in the audience screamed ‘Darr ke aage jeethu hai” and everyone cheered!
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to a person living or dead is purely co-incidental.