I have a confession to make.
Like everyone else who happened to take a look at Anant Ambani’s speech at a recent Mumbai event marking Reliance Industries’ 40th anniversary, I too laughed my heart out, partaking in the meme fest spreading like wildfire in the online world, while still bitching about it over a glass of whiskey with close friends off the internet grid.
Nastily laughing over how the Ambani scion became the first meme of 2018, as was diligently reported by Yahoo news as soon as it caught fire on Twitter, Facebook and just about everywhere else.
The admittedly unpalatable expressions, the ‘energy’ just hitting through the roof, the eerily corny lines delivered in a frenzied monologue…I could go on and on and we would still not cover all the points we find funny in this speech.
And we would chuckle over it harder than we have over any other meme in recent times, more so, because it is Ambani’s son after all, and to mock wealthy, privileged people born with a silver spoon in their mouth for their follies is justifiably our way of getting back at this increasingly capitalistic society and a seemingly harmless way to feel better about our own debt-ridden, harried work-laden, tousled, ordinary lives.
Why then, is my article titled the way it is?
Because each time I clicked on the Youtube link to laugh some more, the hilarity of the speech hit me with lesser intensity with each subsequent click, directly proportional to the warmth and empathy gushing over me when I would see just how proud and elated his mother, Neeta Ambani looked to see her son standing up on stage and facing thousands of people and owning his space – however that might come across to the rest of the world.
Because I recalled, many many years ago, I was that person, braving the stage,trying to come off unscathed by ready criticism and still survive the ordeal of speaking in public.
No, I am no Ambani, my family isn’t even close to being what can be considered an elite bunch (we will get to that later). But I’ve had to deal with my demons, some of whom paralyze me to this day.
Let me be clear, this certainly features as one of the weirdest speeches I’ve ever heard, mostly in part due to, and predictably accentuated by the trite script handed over to the lad.
“Doston, main apne Papa ki tarah aapko inspire toh nahin kar sakta, par aspire kar sakta hun ki inspire kar sakun.”
“Main aap sabhi se dil ka sambandh banana chahta hun, kyunki, mere liye, dil ka rishta bahut gehra aur lamba hota hai.” (Okay, this one seems like it’s bordering on double entendre, or maybe, I am just too much of a pervert!)
“I deeply respect my parents and gurus. I am deeply religious and God is my constant companion. I also respect every religion and their Gods. I am concerned about the environment. I deeply care about animals and for me, to serve the Reliance family is the most important mission of my life.”
“Your pain is my pain, your joy is my joy, your tears are my tears, your smile is my smile.”
“Reliance meri jaan hai, Reliance India ki jaan hai, Reliance duniya ki zubaan hai.”
Reliance being “India ki jaan” standing factually incorrect as can be verified with most of us Indians here who will willingly hop on to other services if Reliance goes bust; but this is the point where Neeta Ambani gives her son a standing ovation, beaming proudly, looking around for some encouragement and applause and you can say this is working because Anant smiles back feeling a sense of accomplishment too.
I believe I ended up copying almost the entire speech showing exactly what was off about it (which, ironically, is the whole damn speech); I daresay it almost sounded like those over-enthusiastic prompted speeches delivered in multi-level marketing seminars. Needless to say, the words are almost barked at the audience and you feel a sinking sense of cringe throughout.
The Ambanis really should have hired someone with a good pair of ears to write this speech.
But does their lack of foresight warrant this level of mockery and derision of a young, 22 year-old braving an audience of no less than 500 people, evidently speaking in public for the first time?
Although there were plenty of publications that jumped in to send out ridicule-filled articles into the social media space while also quietly taking them down within hours of publication, there were thankfully, some sensible people who thought it was no laughing matter.
Trolling this young man trying to stand up to the intense pressure he in no way asked for, is not only distasteful, but quite pitifully exposes what we, as a society, have collectively become.
Anyone who we perceive as funny, weird, different from, or inferior to us in some way, is immediately trolled. God forbid, if that person has as much inherited money as Anant does, then there is clearly no escape route, since somehow we feel money and privilege blunts the edges of social ostracization faced by these entities and it possibly couldn’t affect the unfortunately ridiculed souls as much.
For one, it seems Anant used to be severely asthmatic and a patient of hypothyroidism, having only recently lost more than a hundred kilos.
Now imagine someone with body image and breathing issues and how hard that person might have tried to be socially accepted.
Health issues or not, disability or not, what makes it okay for any of us to deride this individual whose personal journey we have no idea of?
In Anant’s case, snap off the wealth and privilege tag and objectively think how hard it might have been for this young boy to socially conduct himself.
A glaring reality would’ve faced him at many points in his life – that of rejection (albeit, sly and less obvious, because he is Mukesh Ambani’s son at the end of the day), that of not being as healthy and mobile as his counterparts, feeling terribly hopeless and helpless for something beyond his control, despite all the money at his disposal.
Now imagine that same person, trying to break out of his shell, follow the path his father took, and make his family proud. Imagine him trying to handle the burden of expectations weighing down on him by virtue of his birth and the millions of eyes hungrily watching him, as he takes center stage and tries to make a mark on his own.
Imagine him trying to impress a mighty crowd of socially important figures and at least be accepted as worthy of the baton that has been passed on to him.
I doubt he was thinking he’d swing it from the moment go.
Rather, I believe, he was most likely petrified but knew he had no choice but to make the best use of the chance he had, because sometimes, life presents us with circumstances we must face.
But just when he had probably started finding his feet in this hyper-competitive, socially glossy terrain, thousands of strangers chose to drag him down and shatter his self-esteem and the tiny morsel of confidence he might’ve gained into pieces.
Think of the rejection and what a blow it might have landed on his still-developing personality.
And now think back to how it felt when you were publicly criticized/mocked/humiliated/shamed for something that’s beyond your control. If you have never been in that position, good job, you’re going great guns in life, but if you have been made to feel like an object of joke even once in your life, even if it’s in a circle of no more than 5 people, do remind yourself how that feels and apply it to this scenario.
Does your hefty bank account step in to provide any solace?
Do the social media likes and comments on your carefully curated posts count?
I guess not because trolling and shaming have a language of their own, universal and non-discriminatory in who they touch and how they affect those who’ve been at the receiving end of it.
Public Speaking, Bullying and why it’s got to stop
I was in the ninth grade when I first got the chance to participate in an elocution competition. Bright and curious, I was the standard poster child for the kid who excelled in academics, knew the answers to pretty much all of the textbook questions and was quite annoyingly called the ‘teacher’s pet.’
I cannot even describe how tormented I used to feel as a child all the way till my teens, slowly crumbling under the weight of the gazillion expectations – flying in from my family, teachers in school, private tutors, and even friends (the kinds who are quick to bring to your notice the high scores of freshly brewing toppers and remind you of how your ‘position’ as class no. 1 is fading out).
So naturally, going by this logic, everybody expected me to make a success of the competition and come out with flying colors.
I remember starting off well and articulate, my best friend in the crowd of at least 100 students sitting in the auditorium hall, nodding her head, egging me on as if to say “Good, keep going”.
I recall being pumped up for five seconds or so before unfortunately catching two students in the row behind sniggering uncontrollably.
And there – just like that I lost the plot. The words stopped tumbling. I froze. Everything look like a vicious mask of black around me.
No matter how many times the teacher tried to prompt me from the sidelines or my friend nodded her head vigorously, trying to keep my drive going, I could not speak a word further.
That was my first time experiencing extreme stage fright, and though I have unwillingly stepped up on stage numerous times later in life, it has been harrowing, maddening, numbing.
Could I have come out on top in that elocution contest, or at least not embarrassed myself, had those silly guileless teens in the row behind not sniggered the way they did?
I don’t know, maybe I was a weakling who was desperate for the approval of her peers and anxious to retain the ‘class No. 1 badge’ at all costs and shouldn’t have tumbled down like a pack of cards at the slightest nudge. So I might’ve still have messed up.
But would more eager eyes (minus the sniggering) and encouraging nods have helped my case? Possibly.
Could constant rejection and verbal and physical abuse on the home front have factored in, so much so I couldn’t/sometimes still can’t face a crowd? Definitely.
That’s a lot of skeletons in my closet for a single post, more on that some other day.
But the point is – this constant feeling of trepidation and that dreaded sense of drowning in a black, black hole has since lunged at me each time thereafter – be it during those handful of class presentations back in the university, or that moment when I had to go up on stage to receive an award, or even when I had to face a live audience during my theater days.
Clinging to me like a stubborn, blood-sucking leech right till this day – so much that
I wish the moment would somehow dissolve into nothingness.
And when it grudgingly does come by, I want it to end like nothing happened.
Turns out I am not the only panic-stricken soul that routinely avoids speaking in public like it’s plague, I have more than 20 million individuals to give me company, if this information trove on Psychology Today is anything to go by.
Surveys don’t exaggerate when they say people like us would rather die than speak in public.
Interestingly, not even powerhouse performers, insightful leaders and speakers of this day and age have been spared by the phobia of facing the stage.
Julia Roberts, with a net worth of $140 million used to stutter as a child and was terrified of public speaking. So was world-class investor Warren Buffet who spent most of his college years avoiding courses that required him to speak in front of a class (let’s high-five then Mr. Buffett, since I have done the exact same thing for all of my 5 years in law school).
From being in the shadows to taking the stage for his first sermon at 36, and to being mercilessly compared to his possibly more eloquent father, televangelist Joel Scott Osteen must have dug in his heels and sweated out some intense groundwork, the result of which is there for all to see.
Can you believe this is the same guy?
Holy Christ (or rather, Hey Ram!) even Mahatma Gandhi, the man who led the Independence Movement of a demographic and ethnic mix like India used to fear speaking in public!
Others included in this list are actor-singer Bruce Willis, golf icon Tiger Woods, comedian-writer Rowan Atkinson and many, many others.
I don’t need to gush about their achievements and global impact any more, you see their names pop up and already know what they have managed to accomplish, despite their speech disability, which obviously, was not a permanent scar of some sort and with time was overcome.
So all those humiliating Anant Ambani for the way he spoke at the event, relax people, he is just 22, he has time and a world of opportunities on his side, and irrespective of how he fared in his first grand public appearance at the moment, know that he’s already winning it, because he has started on the journey to glory and success by taking that first big step.
Trust, that everything else will fall in place eventually, because that is how it always does.