Rachit Mehra wheeled himself up the ramp of ‘The International School’, thankful that this new age institution was equipped for disabled students. He thought of how difficult it had been for his parents to convince ‘Vidya Mandir’ to install ramps for him after the accident two years ago. Tarini Shah, flustered at having to carry both their bags and all the paraphernalia for their debate today, arrived at his side a minute later.
They were an unlikely team, Rachit and Tarini, having never participated in a debate together, but they weren’t given an option when the star debater of their school was diagnosed with measles two days ago. In the last 48 hours, they had fought many times- Rachit fashioning Tarini an airhead who wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of the opposing team, and Tarini judging the boy in a wheelchair, a liability. Now they proceeded to the school’s sleek reception in tacit silence.
“We’re here for the S.K Jain Memorial Debate Competition, and we represent ‘Vidya Mandir Senior Secondary School’. Could you please tell us where we need to go?” Tarini asked confidently.
Rachit resented her taking the reins in every situation- his inability to stand didn’t make her the leader! Disgruntled, he reflected on how important this Competition was for him. It was the first time his school principal, Mrs. Khurana, had entrusted him to represent the school in a state-wide Debate Competition. He had always been a keen debater, with confident oration skills and the ability to think on his feet. However, the terrible car accident two summers ago had changed everything. The teachers outwardly showed immense concern, yet prevented any opportunities coming his way. He was somehow tainted for no fault of his. Losing his legs had been akin to losing his standing and respect in school. Rather courageously, he approached Mrs. Khurana at the beginning of his final school year, requesting her to give him a chance. He still enjoyed debating and had good oration and reasoning skills. Most importantly, he needed more opportunities in extra-curricular activities, so he could apply for University next year on a strong footing. Filling in last minute for the debate at ‘The International School’ was a difficult task, yet he knew it was his only chance.
“Please go straight and then turn right for the auditorium. You will be guided at the Help Desk there. The event will begin shortly. Good luck!”, trilled the friendly receptionist, breaking into Rachit’s reverie.
As Tarini took the lead, she reflected on how important this Competition was for her. When her father lost his job last year, she had not expected the wide-ranging effect his unemployment would have on her. Her parents began to fight a lot, taking their respective frustrations out on each other; her brother was too immersed in his college life, preferring to stay away from the family drama; and Tarini had to cut down on her outings due to the reduced household income, which seriously affected her friendships. Yesterday, her father sat her down and told her that his savings were dwindling to a negligible amount. He was desperately looking for a job but it was proving difficult in the current market situation. On helplessly asking him what she could do, he declared, “Beta, you will have to work hard to get a scholarship for college. I cannot afford to pay your fees in addition to your brother’s. You are a bright girl and if you focus on your studies and extra-curricular activities this year, I know you will manage.” Today’s Debate Competition had suddenly become much more significant. She only wished her team mate had been different, one that didn’t hide his insecurities and problems behind a ‘know-it-all’ superior attitude.
At the Help Desk, they were told that the format for this Competition divided teams from the shortlisted schools in groups of two, which would debate FOR and AGAINST the MOTION picked. Each team would be given fifteen minutes to discuss and prepare their topic, before presenting their arguments on stage. Then the opposing team from their group would present arguments for the other side of the motion. Both teams would then be given five minutes to prepare a rebuttal argument based on the presentation of their opposing team.
They were told to pick a topic from a random draw of chits. This time Rachit preempted Tarini by lunging for the box that contained the topics in closed chits. Quickly reading what he had picked, he exclaimed in delight, “this is from my favourite movie!”. Grabbing the chit tersely, Tarini read aloud,
““The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.”- Timothy Mouse, Dumbo.
Can one’s weakness actually be one’s strength? SPEAKING FOR THE MOTION.”
Sheepishly looking at Rachit with a smile, she said, “I hate to say this, but Dumbo is my favourite movie too.”
They were informed that they would be opposing the team from ‘Fairview High School’, which was known to be ruthless in its personal attacks on people, cleverly disguised as rhetoric. Most teams opposing them would cower under their brutal verbal assault, while most judges would be thoroughly impressed. This was going to be more difficult than either of them had anticipated.
Hurriedly pulling out their sheets of paper, Tarini and Rachit looked at each other warily. “Listen, you and I don’t get along, but that shouldn’t stop us from giving our best today”, began Tarini.
“Yes, I will do anything to ensure those horrid bullies from Fairview don’t win!”, asserted Rachit. “Let’s make a game plan.”
“I think you should argue the main debate, since we are For the Motion,” Tarini began.
Shaking his head, Rachit expressed his worry that the opposing team would ridicule his disability, which may not be the best way to begin.
“Just hear me out,” Tarini responded patiently. “The thing I admire about you the most is your unwavering self-confidence. I have never once seen you flinch in physical pain from your wounds, or emotional pain at the cruel words of the silly boys in our school, who call you ‘wheelie’ and whatnot. In fact, it seems your accident only made you stronger. I can’t think of a better person to talk about one’s weakness being one’s strength!”
Rachit looked at her with surprised admiration. Not only was he taken aback at her empathy, he was also impressed with her mental acuity and sound planning skills. He said, “thanks Tarini… and I think you should do the rebuttal. I can see that you’re good at assessing people’s strengths, which means you’ll be able to assess the other team’s weaknesses, attacking them where it hurts after hearing their arguments. What do you think?”
Tarini smiled and said, “I think that’s a great idea. Let’s do this together, as a team.” They bent their heads and began discussing their core arguments.
A few hours later, the Compere announced the team from ‘Vidya Mandir Senior Secondary School’ as the State-wide winners. Yelling their collective joy, they graciously accepted the trophy together.
The gentleman handing out their prize shook their hands and passed on his card to each of them. “I am Suresh Menon, Dean of Bhim Sen University. Your performance today was splendid. I have rarely come across such a well-meshed and intelligent team of debaters. My University is always hunting for your caliber of talent. Please come and meet me along with your parents, and I sincerely hope you will consider Bhim Sen as your destination for higher education.”
Later, heading back to their own school, they excitedly discussed the events of the morning. A friendship was clearly burgeoning between this unlikely pair- the airhead who turned out to be quite smart and the boy in the wheelchair who was far from being a liability!
This blog is a part of the #WeeklyBlogHop hosted by Alpana of www.mothersgurukul.com and Neha Sharma of www.growingwithnemit.com. I have written on the prompt “The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.”- Timothy Mouse, Dumbo.
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