Perhaps, it was 1996 or 1997. We were living in Mylapore and I was in Class 4 or 5. Just a week before Independence Day, suddenly, my sister proudly announced that, “Deepika will participate in the singing competition too!” I cleared my throat and asked, “What? What competition?” She explained that the members of some association in the street had arranged for Independence Day celebrations. Firstly, I was clueless and I couldn't understand why my sister nominated me when she was a good singer herself. (Ouch, now that’s a confession). However, I – the self-proclaimed eager beaver – was all excited and pompously agreed to participate in three categories – Singing, Oratorical and Quiz competitions.
My sister, who chooses to be thorough in everything that she does, decided to prepare me for the singing competition and as usual, she delegated the responsibility of prepping me up for Oratorical and Quiz. She is, usually, allergic to general knowledge and cerebral activities. (I’m abreast of all consequences, Krithi) So, Dad wrote a killer piece for me to deliver on Independence Day and he helped me with some GK questions too. After a long brainstorming session with the family, my sister picked the song Kappaleri Poyachu from Indian. Her reasons for the choice of song were, a) It’s a patriotic-cum-romantic song b) It’s a peppy number c) It’d go well with my voice. Done! I was flattered! So this big sister of mine believed that I could sing too. She still hasn't divulged the reason as to why she put me in that competition, but she honestly helped me to cope with the situation.
We had intense rehearsals for a couple of days. She made me listen to that song some one hundred times. To Rewind and fast-forward were some of the tough jobs then. If you remember the good old days when cassettes existed, you would be able to follow me. So we did this play-stop-rewind-play-fast-forward process zillion times. I sang till my mother searched for cotton to plug it in her ears. But I stayed focussed in my vigorous practice with my master. And finally, August 15 arrived.
A big stage was set in the middle of the street. As usual, roads were blocked. I ascended the tiny staircase in the stage to deliver my motivational speech on Independence. It was more like a child’s play. I finished my speech in a blink of an eye. Yet it was powerful (I heard). Then I teamed with a couple of boys for the quiz competition and answered for questions like, “Who is the Iron man? Who is known as the nightingale?” I managed to stay cool till the quiz competition wound up. But I began to perspire excessively when I had to go to the stage again to render Kappaleri Poyachu. Winning was not my focus at all then. But I had to give my best for my ruthless trainer, my sister. She just didn’t fine tune my Shruti and Talam, but she went an extra mile by giving me tips on how my face should look and what kind of hand movements I had to do and all that. It was a patriotic song. So she warned me umpteen times that I had to sound and look confident. I went to the stage, stood in front of the mic, fixed my eyes on the corner of the road, where there was nobody and began to sing. I ensured that I averted my eyes when my family cheered me up and I just sang. When I was all done, there were a couple of cheerful audiences, who chose to motivate me by generously applauding, while the others tried hard to suppress their yawns. I joined my family, who were all elated and proud of me. I told dad, “Appa, I have already won the quiz competition. I will win oratorical too. But my performance was pathetic in singing competition.” Dad consoled me with his typical advice, “Participation is more important than winning.”
From Kaatrinile Varum Geetham to Vande Mataram, many budding singers performed. Finally, one of the judges took the mic to announce the results. The old man called out my name as the first runner up in oratorical competition. I ran up to the stage to collect the stainless steel tiffin box and posed for the shutterbugs. I came down, showed the box to mom and went through the certificate a couple of times to ensure that my name was not misspelt. Out of blue, my sister nudged and yelled, “Hey, go go. First prize in singing!” I fainted, literally! I gathered myself and asked my sister, “What are you saying?” She pushed me to the stage. I went their again to collect another tiffin box and smiled widely for the photographs. I was certain that my family couldn’t believe that I was given the first prize. I concurred!
Almost after 17 years, on the same day, I happily recall the riddle wrapped up in an enigma. I still can’t figure out how I managed to sing and win that day!