Good beginnings

 One more prestigious award was being added to their existing and time-honoured list. Their ex-student and well-known chief of Business Solutions Inc had sponsored a prize for the ‘Best Speaker of the Year’, an award that would assure the winner of acclaim and attention in the days to come. The elimination rounds were over and the finalists were Ajay and Suresh, toppers of Std. X, ‘A’ and ‘B’ sections, respectively. They were friends as well as rivals. Each had respect and admiration for the other, but this was also underlined by a keen desire to outdo the other. Ajay, it seemed, would be the winner, for he was outspoken and articulate. Suresh was, on the other hand, thoughtful and imaginative.

The topic given was ‘Self is more important than service’. It was a difficult subject for young minds. And while one of them had to speak for the proposition, the other had to argue against it. It had been announced the evening before and, according to a draw held, Ajay would speak for the topic and Suresh against it. The boys were given the next morning off to prepare their arguments.

Both the boys launched into feverish preparation. They held discussions the previous evening with teachers, parents and friends.

When Ajay left for school the next morning, he had his facts marshalled carefully. He knew he would have to present them clearly as well as passionately, because speaking for the topic held far less popular appeal than speaking against it! Suresh had read up a great deal on those who chose to serve selflessly and felt that he had plenty of points to sway the judges in his favour.

Excused from classes that morning, the boys made their way to the library. Suresh cycled his way to school every day and set off early. Ajay left later, as he had the advantage of a car and chauffeur. Ajay had almost reached school, when he saw a knot of people gathered on the road. There had been an accident. Leaning out of the window, Ajay spotted a figure lying on the ground. He was clad in blue pants and a white shirt —  the colours of their school uniform. It could well be one of his classmates! Pushing his way through the crowd, Ajay went up to the figure. There, white and shaken, lay Suresh. His ankle was twisted and his face was contorted in pain. Ajay felt a rush of feelings in his heart. Poor Suresh, he would hardly be able to participate in the contest. What could he do to help? Then, he heard another voice. To his horror, he found himself thinking that the contest would now be a cakewalk! He would be the enviable winner of the day. Surprise and shame overwhelmed him but thrusting his thoughts aside, he busied himself in helping Suresh.

As gently as possible Suresh was lifted into the car and taken to Ajay’s family doctor. Luckily, he had not been hurt badly. His foot was firmly bandaged and he was given medicines to ease the pain. Though pale and tired, Suresh began to relax and breathe easy. The doctor assured him that he would be able to handle the day’s ordeal well enough.

The two reached school with only an hour to go for the competition. News of the accident had reached everyone and it had been a period of tension and anxiety. Now, there was huge relief that things would work out as planned.

Ajay went up to the stage first. He took a deep breath and began speaking. At once his speech took on a life of its own, with his very first sentence sparking instant interest. He began, ‘No one can doubt or deny it: If you need a doer for a deed, then self comes before service’.

He went on to argue that a person needs education and training to achieve anything worthwhile. The mind too must be trained to understand the needs of others.  Taking the argument further, he said, ‘True service can only come from those who cultivate their skills. He alone serves who trains his own self’. The audience burst into loud applause.

Suresh had to remain seated while speaking because of the accident. In a clear but persuasive manner, he began, ‘The lives of great men and women show that where self reigns, there cannot be service. History too celebrates those who served others by putting aside personal interests and selfish gain’.

He went on to briefly describe  the lives of those served selflessly and made the world a better place. Towards the end of his speech, he stood up slowly and declared, ‘My worthy opponent has made a convincing speech about the merits of putting self before service. However, he has provided ample proof that service comes before self. This morning, he could well have ignored me in my plight and won the contest hands down. It was his sense of service that prevented him from doing so. He helped me to stand here this evening and be part of this programme. There is no doubt that service comes before self’.

There was a moment’s silence and then the hall resounded with loud cheers. The judges were not long in arriving at a decision.

The contest had ended in a tie. The two boys would share the prize!

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