The Beauty Of Mentoring Is In Encouragement!

I realized the value of a mentor, that wonderful senior lady who had understood my fears and made me face up to them. She had brought me out of my shell!

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope within yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

It was the moment of truth, as I stared at the sea of faces that loomed in front of me, my eyes glazed. I stood on the school stage, the microphone before me, all set to recite Mark Antony’s famous speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral. I was in the ninth standard and people had already predicted that I would win.

Except that I didn’t!

Flashback:

My grandfather watched me with an eagle’s eye as I posed, paused and proclaimed, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…!” I knew the speech like the back of my hand, and I charged through it like a bull with a red rag.

“Slow down, child! It is a funeral oration, not a superfast train that you have to catch!” My grandfather’s brow was creased as this was the tenth time he was trying to rein me in.

As my Army Dad had been posted in a remote place somewhere in the East of India (locations were not to be disclosed!), I lived with my paternal grandparents. As the eldest grandchild, everyone around me pampered me silly.

My doting grandmother fussed over my food habits. She fed me with soft white butter and the softest white bread with sugar sprinkled on it (a slice of Heaven!). I ate so well that ‘I just growed and growed’ as the enthusiastic Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The blankness hit me

Back to the present: The sea of faces continued to stare at me as I posed, paused and proclaimed, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!” And they did… they lent me their ears and their eyes, staring at me with single undivided attention.

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Four lines later, a black haze settled before my eyes and I went absolutely blank. Mark Antony had made an exit, and in his place was a cowardly custard who was turning into a wobbly mess.

I stumbled back home, red-faced, tears streaming down my eyes. My grandparents were shocked out of their wits.

“What happened, child? You knew the whole speech so well!”

That was when I vowed that never would I allow myself to speak in public again.

Fifteen years went by. By then, I had metamorphosed into an Army wife, having the time of my life. It was during one of our major Ladies’ Meets that our Commander’s wife broke a bombshell.

Master of Ceremonies, me?

“Deepti, you will be the Master of Ceremonies for the Meet. I have no doubt you will do a fantastic job!”

My heart sank as I tried to convince her that I could do anything, but speak in public. She refused to listen to me and I went home, once again a cowardly custard who had turned into a wobbly mess.

My husband was quite unsympathetic. Even as I howled my innards out, he smiled at me, patted me on the back and said. “You can do it!” Et tu, Brute, I muttered to myself.

There was a fortnight to go, and the first two days saw me perched like an owl, staring into nothingness as I thought of ways to escape. I could fall gravely sick. I could go home to Kerala. Likewise, I was a total wreck.

The world didn’t end!

There seemed no way out. Finally, I took my courage in my own hands and decided to write out the whole speech, jokes and all, learn it by heart and regurgitate it on the day of the Meet. I hoped against hope that the world would come to an end before D-Day.

The Almighty had other plans. The world did not seem in any danger of ending. I spent all my waking hours learning my speech, and had nightmares when I shut my eyes.

I stood before the mirror, walked in the park, and floated around like a disconsolate spirit, muttering under my breath, while people around darted strange looks at me, which I did not even notice. Furthermore, I was too busy rehearsing my jokes.

On the day of The Meet, my palms were clammy, and my heart pounded like drumbeats. I was dressed to the nines, and my husband dropped me at the venue, with a cheery, “All the best! You’ll be great!”

They were listening to me

There I was, a feeling of déjà vu hitting me as I faced a sea of faces that stared unblinkingly at me.

In trepidation, I started, the first few lines went well. Suddenly, my first joke got a roar of laughter, at which I almost jumped out of my skin. The next joke was a minute away and then, a miracle took place. I found myself relaxing, almost enjoying myself.

I did not have to think of my lines… they flowed into one another with ease.

By the end of the meet, I was throwing about my lines like a veteran. It was as though I had thrown off a layer of shyness like a timid caterpillar emerging from its chrysalis.

My mentor had brought me out of my shell

That is when I realized the value of a mentor, that wonderful senior lady who had understood my fears and made me face up to them. She had brought me out of my shell and made me realize that I had the courage to step up and entertain a crowd.

Every time I see alarm on the face of a child, or trepidation at having to speak in public, I take him or her into confidence and narrate the above story to them. Almost always, they give me a look of disbelief, and then go ahead and take their place onstage.

From mentee to mentor has been a fulfilling journey and I always hold gratitude in my heart for that wonderful senior lady, not only for her foresight, but also for her tremendous support and her confidence in me.

“Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts.” – Leo Tolstoy

Editor’s Note: For IWD 2023, we’re publishing #MentoringStories in both fiction and non-fiction, for the IWD2023 theme #EmbraceEquity. See all mentoring stories here.

Image source: Still from Shershah, edited on CanvaPro

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