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Rejection Diaries – The Second Battle

Prologue

“Reason does not work…”

My mind went blank. 

This is bad. Think! You know this!… 

I tried again as I spoke up after a dramatic pause.

“Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct. The function… the function of…”

The words refused to come despite all the struggle.

Shit.  

***

Chapter I – Rejection Diaries

In Rejection Diaries – My First Encounter,I wrote about my experience with facing rejection and the events which followed thereafter. This time around, I want to share another anecdote. This one also involves rejection, but of a different kind.

This happened during my third year of engineering studies. My institute had different campuses spread across three states in South India. The main campus which was at Coimbatore organized a three day literary fest every year with plays, debates, dumb charades and other literary contests in which hundreds of students from various colleges in South India registered to participate.

A team of people from my college, including myself decided to give it a shot. The previous year we had a strong team and had managed to win the main trophy. The trophy was given to the team who managed to get the maximum points by winning multiple events.This year too, we were hoping to win enough competitions which would allow us to bring back the main prize.

We booked the train and set out merrily to Coimbatore. 

I had enrolled my name in a couple of competitions and fun events where I knew I had a solid chance of winning. This year a new contest called ‘Declamation’ was added. I had no idea what it was. But there were a couple of my team members who had enrolled for it and I got talked into registering for it as well. They told me it was like extempore but with a little variety.

When I googled the term and read about it, this is what I found out:

A declamation involves memorizing a speech from a well-known section of a speech from a famous play or a legendary politician’s rhetoric and like a well-rehearsed actor, saying your lines to the audience. One would be judged on the content, delivery style and ability to reproduce the speech with firm conviction and confidence of the original speaker whose speech was chosen.

Uh-oh.

I had participated in essays, debates and extempore contests before. Almost all of them had an element of simultaneity to them. Not this one.  With the event just two days away, this needed an excellent memory and a fair bit of experience.

I had neither.

And so I began my attempt to mug up the speech. This competition was on the last day. So I had only 48 hours to prepare. For the next two days, I was constantly muttering to myself with a slip of paper in my hand containing bits and pieces of the speech. But I knew all along it was a vain attempt. 

I found out that in a declamation, contestants commonly chose classic and famous pieces. Shakespeare’s plays, speeches by eminent orators like Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr. and Swami Vivekananda were the favorites.

Not knowing all this, I had naively chosen a section from Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ where the main character John Galt gives a radio speech to the world.

Not a very smart move.

The speech was an exceedingly complex piece – full of long sentences, difficult to memorize words and ran about 70 pages in the book. My vanity had let me think I could do my own version of the speech by choosing bits and pieces which were easy to say and then rehashing them in real-time extempore giving an illusion of a well-rehearsed speech.

I hoped I could get away with it because I assumed most people hadn’t read the book or wouldn’t have remembered the original speech.

Big mistake.

Little did I know then that all the participants had to give the judges a copy of the speech and contestants would be judged on accuracy of the content as well!

***

Chapter II. Declamation Day

The literary fest went on well for the first two days. The debates, the mock-trials and other events passed by without too much trouble. Our team managed to win most of the events we took part in. There was optimism all around.

Then the day arrived.

The auditorium was almost filled to capacity with around three hundred people. Professors, students and guests attending the literary fest were all looking eagerly at the stage. They were waiting for the declamation contest to begin. Every speaker was to present a 5 – 7 minute speech and would be judged by experts from the communications department.

The first speaker was a confident and self-assured teammate of mine who started off nicely by introducing herself. She started her speech

“Today I will speak from Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar”.

Most people in the audience seemed to smile and nod as if giving a sign of acceptance at the well-chosen speech. A neighbor of mine said “This is the ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech you see – a classic!”

I nodded enthusiastically. I was seriously hoping she would nail it and no expectations would be placed on me.

She spoke exceedingly well for the first two minutes. Then she panicked. Her tone went from being strong and assertive to meek and fumbling. It was evident what had happened. She had forgotten her lines from the speech mid-way. The next one minute was a pain to watch as she struggled to regain her composure and failed. One could see the anger, the shame and humiliation she felt in front of such a huge audience. She stared at the audience with tears in her eyes and mumbled ‘Thank you’ and got down from the stage.

There was silence in the room for a few seconds then the crowd started mumbling. I heard some jeers, laughs and a bunch of ‘Tch -Tch’s’. There were a few noises of understanding as  well. But the truth was the girl who had started as a potential winner was no more in the race.

It was going to be cut-throat.

My other two teammates didn’t fair very well either. Our rival campuses had assembled decent speakers who had experience in such contests and had mugged up their speeches ages ago. They weren’t great but relativity has a funny way of influencing our minds. Our bad performance made them look like great orators.

My name was called near the end. One of my teammates shook my hand and muttered “It’s upto you now. Go and kill it!”

The butterflies in my stomach which were flying abuzz till then decided to do a tribal dance. Like a sacrificial ritual before offering flesh to their gods.

I silently cursed myself for getting into this. My walk to the stage was awkward and slow. I introduced myself and told them the speech I had chosen.

There were three judges. Two women and one guy. The women judges smiled and nodded happily. It was obvious they had read the book.  The other looked confused and offended. He gave me an ugly stare which seemed to tell me that he was mighty pissed. I had picked something he didn’t know and he wanted me to know he didn’t like it. He put on his reading glasses and began to look at the copy of the speech I had shared. The bugger was going to see whether I could vomit my speech out, word for word.

I imagined myself as the main character and began in a calm, dry voice.

“Ladies and gentlemen,

Mr. Thompson will not speak to you tonight. His time is up. I have taken it over. You were to hear a report on the world crisis. That is what you are going to hear.

For twelve years, you have been asking: Who is John Galt? This is John Galt speaking. I am the man who loves his life. I am the man who does not sacrifice his love or his values. I am the man who has deprived you of victims and thus has destroyed your world, and if you wish to know why you are perishing—you who dread knowledge—I am the man who will now tell you.”

I gave a dramatic pause and stared at the audience. It had gotten off to a terrific start. I had memorized this section so many times there was no chance I would fumble here. The audience too was taking it well. There was silence all around. I continued with the speech for another minute or so.

And suddenly the well dried up. It was like a tape was running and someone cut the power. Absolute silence within. I tried again.

“Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct. The function… the function of…”

The words refused to come despite all the struggle. Ten very silent seconds went by…

Shit. 

This was not just a memory loss. Rather it was a system failure. It was as if the consciousness inside me seemed to have rejected my idea of pretending to be someone else and decided to quit. Since I had not put in any real effort or believed in what I was saying, all my faculties of spontaneous oration had deserted me.

The internal blankness was a rejection from within. The timing sucked big time. My fears all rose up telling me to stop and give up because there was no way I could salvage the situation now.

The judge who was holding the speech copy seemed to be particularly delighted. I could hear him thinking ‘That’s right ya moron, just stand there like that for a few more seconds and we can finally get this over with!’

His reaction triggered something inside me. The deep primal urge to prove someone wrong acted like a restart button. My ability to bullshit came back on and the words started coming out again.

What I said for the next three minutes didn’t seem to matter to me. I had resolved to speak for the full duration without bothering about the accuracy or the content.

Rejection from the outside world looked like a walk in the park when compared to the rejection when it happened from within. There was no way in hell I would fake my speech and pretend to be John Galt anymore. I would stay true to myself. My tone became angrier and stronger.

So I did what I do best. I spoke confidently for the next few minutes making up the main character’s speech using my own words while staying true to the essence and vocabulary used in the book. I made sure I used the words ‘volition’, ‘morality’ and ‘rational mind’ which were used abundantly in the book.

The two judges who had read the book didn’t realize I was faking it. Sure they must have deducted a few points for the awkward silence which had happened for a few seconds. But overall, they seemed to be enjoying it and nodding from time to time.

The male judge however was squirming in his seat trying to figure out the section I was speaking from. To my credit, I had given them a printed word document with a font size 8. So he got irritated and gave up trying to look for the words. He began glaring at me instead.

But it was too late for him. My fearlessness had unlocked the rusted memory in the last few seconds. The end part of the speech flashed before me and the words flowed effortlessly.

“Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.

You will win when you are ready to pronounce the oath I have taken at the start of my battle—and for those who wish to know the day of my return, I shall now repeat it to the hearing of the world:

I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

It was perhaps the most impactful delivery of my speech because it truly summed up what I felt and what I had instinctively learnt in those five minutes. I finished with a smile and a nice flourish to the applause from the audience and judges and walked back to my seat.

The contest finally ended after a few more speakers and we all went back to see other competitions.

***

Epilogue

The results were to be announced at the end of the day in a ceremony where the participants of all events and the entire college students gathered in a big convention hall.

As the award ceremony began, I couldn’t help but to secretly wish that I win some prize for the declamation. The other events didn’t seem to matter too much. We had won quite a few awards in other competitions and the final score looked quite competitive. We stood third in terms of the overall rank.

Then someone on the stage announced it was time for the results of declamation. I could hear my heartbeat as I held my breath and muttered Come on!

They called the judges on stage who praised the excellent speeches and thanked all the participants for their efforts and dedication. They announced the third prize which went to a girl who had chosen Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech.

“The second prize goes to …”

My name was called.

My teammates were shouting but there was a silence in me again. This time it was not a silence of rejection. It was the silent joy of fulfillment. A calm and content consciousness.

I got up and received my prize. The judge who had hoped I would fumble gave me an awkward handshake as if to say ‘You got lucky boy!’

The final scoreboard showed we had inched to the second place. But the difference between the first and second position was too big. We wouldn’t be taking the main trophy home.

You can’t win all the battles all the time.

The first prize went to someone who had chosen a speech from a Shakespeare’s play. I clapped politely but I cursed that great writer of the play in my head.

You son of a gun, Shakespeare. Why couldn’t you write dumber plays?!’

The End

***

Hope you enjoyed reading this one.

Cheers!

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6 Comments

  1. Vernon Vernon

    Hi Nik,

    What an excellent piece of writing! The words you used are beautiful and timing. I like how you got up the courage in the middle of your speech.

    You realized you can do it just by being yourself and giving it your all without fearing what dude thought.

    Rejection and mistakes are a part of life so thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom with us.

    I know one day you will write your own novel and I will be the first to buy it because you write that good.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hey Vernon!

      Thank you for your compliments 🙂 and I am planning to writing one soon 😀 will send you the link as soon as it’s out! Have an awesome weekend!

  2. Harleena Singh Harleena Singh

    Hi Nik,

    Awesome piece indeed 🙂

    I enjoyed reading right through! Almost made me feel I was sitting among the audience and hearing your speech, you described it all SO well.

    Your post reminded me of the several debates we had in college too, but I could never remember all the lines you still remember! This goes to show how effortlessly you must’ve spoken too, and that is what made you such a wonderful public speaker as well.

    I think when we speak from within, those words flow much better as compared to mugging it all up. I’d always forget my lines if I did that…lol…

    Of course, you had to win! Cheers for that indeed. I wouldn’t say or call it rejection in any way – I think it was a great achievement to rise from where you faltered, and that not many can do. Just like the girl who spoke before you.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend 🙂

    • Thank you Harleena! 🙂 I was trying to write this in the form of a micro novel 😀 here by rejection I meant of two kinds, one an internal rejection of fear and externally a rejection of non-authentic behaviour 🙂 I am so happy you enjoyed reading it! Have a great week ahead.

      Cheers!

  3. awazieikechi awazieikechi

    Hi Nik

    What I love about stories is the ability to feel them and use my visual mind to play the tale as I am reading the story.

    Your story isn’t just inspiring but it was like I was watching you in a movie. You remind of an event that happened in my life that made me to overcome my fears.

    Yes Rejection is annoying and there is a look of rejection that one gives you that will make all your sense of fear to disappear and courage to appear.

    Thanks for sharing this story. Take Care

    • Hey Ikechi! Thank you so much 🙂 I am glad you could relate to it so well! 🙂 Have a rocking week ahead!

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