On the stump, at wits’ end

How a much-awaited school election speech ended up as a laugh riot

June 14, 2020 12:19 am | Updated 12:19 am IST

Retro vintage microphone on yellow background studio.

Retro vintage microphone on yellow background studio.

It was election time in Baldwin Girls’ High School, Bangalore, in 1966. Who might be the next school captain or “president”, as she was called? Every candidate had to be nominated and promoted by a fellow student. One of the best and brightest girls (and too modest for her own good) I knew was my classmate T. Rajalakshmi, and a group decided that I campaign for her.

For about 10 days, I reached school earlier than usual and spoke to small groups who either listened patiently or told me to buzz away and bother someone else. I changed tack and talked to influential gang leaders, ending my election mode remarks with “tell your friends”. My next post was the bicycle stand where I waited to ingratiate myself with seniors and house captains. By and by even my best friend began to show some reluctance to accompany me. So I plodded on alone. Came the day when we were supposed to introduce our candidates to the whole school after assembly time and talk about them. What a chance! With my brother’s help, I prepared what we both thought was a brilliant speech. Rajalakshmi read what I showed her and said, “I am none of these things. Looks like you want me to win more than I do,” puncturing my optimism a bit. There might have been some truth in that.

On the big day, I tucked my speech into the pocket of my blazer and waited for my turn. Everyone else said mundane things about their candidate and how “nice” she was. “Even if I don’t win, they’ll remember your speech,” whispered Rajalakshmi. Finally, it was our turn and as we stood up, a teacher asked me to leave my blazer on my chair. Only when I reached the mike did I remember that my speech lay in my blazer pocket.

That empty feeling

I stood in front of the mike with Rajalakshmi on my left. As I looked at the sea of faces before me, my confidence vapourised and ice filled my brain. I took a deep breath and said, “Ladies and gentlemen!” Laughter rippled through the hall because there wasn’t a single man in the audience. I couldn’t recall two words of what I had written. To jiggle my memory, I said “Ladies and gentlemen” a second time. There followed a good deal of merriment. My teachers fell forward to muffle their laughter in sari pallus and handkerchiefs and even the bored office maids waiting on the veranda outside popped their heads in to see what was happening. I don’t clearly recall what happened, but Rajalakshmi herself was suppressing her mirth.

Suffice it to say that I opened and closed with the same sentence: “Please vote for T. Rajalakshmi because she is the best candidate.”

Rajalakshmi lost the election but I retained her friendship .


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