My struggle with my
speech has defined my life. When asked to introduce myself to my class-mates as a six-year-old,
I started with “I’m D..”, but could never finish. As I tried to say my name, my
vocal chords choked. For what seemed like an eternity, I tried to force my way
past the block, but the glaring stares of my peers only served to increase my
paralysis. Eventually, I slumped back into my seat, having experienced the
first of several demoralizing failures and an eventual realization that my stammer
will forever be a struggle and a source of mockery and bullying.
My parents, despite their limited means, took me to
multiple doctors, in the hope of finding a cure.
I still remember how a visit to Ms. Chauhan, a counsellor, changed my life.
‘You can’t be cured’, she bluntly remarked. I was devastated, but the finality with
which she said it marked the end of my desperate attempts to overcome what I
imagined was a crippling weakness, one that would rob me of any potential
success in lifeSV1 . I grew up suppressed in my own little cocoon –
immersing myself in books and steering clear of social occasions.
When I was in high school, I signed up at an
evening school as a volunteer to mentor middle school kids with behavioural
difficulties. I had felt that this would be a low-risk environment, where I
would not be judged for my inability to converse fluently. However, it was only
when I first met my class of 12 students that I truly grasped the reality of
the challenge ahead of me. These were academically challenged, disturbed youth
who had been caught in the vicious web of smashing windows, shoplifting and
other delinquent offences. As I began our first class, the students mocked my
inability to speak a single sentence without stammering. While I was unsettled,
I overlooked their rebukes for the first few days, hoping things would settle
down as we got to know each other better. The situation continued, until one
day, a verbal fight erupted between two students, that soon transformed into a
full-fledged brawl. I tried everything – from threatening to call their parents
to even shouting at them. But I was simply unable to control them, who were just
3-4 years younger than me. They did not respect me for who I was, and I
realized that a dictatorial approach would only make matters worse.
I decided to take a different approach. I broke the
monotony of a classroom by holding my next session in the football ground. Teaching
them a few tricks with the ball, I started sharing anecdotes from my own life and
encouraged them to talk about what they liked and what made them happy. Over
time, as I developed a personal connect with them, I witnessed that the
students started overlooking my stammer, and instead opened up and began
telling me their own stories. We talked about their parents, siblings and
friends as well as about their fears, hopes and dreams. I had gained their
trust by now and we had moved to talking about right versus wrong and the
virtues of good behaviour.
I could see that my students were learning.
However, what I had not imagined at that time was how this experience
emboldened me in a different vein. I learnt about my students horrific
experiences dealing with domestic violence, alcoholic parents and abuse.
However, their effort to improve, and the resulting progress, inspired me to
fight my own problem with my speech. While I couldn’t cure it, I wanted to find
a way to manage it. With the help of my father, I started performing breathing
exercises to help control my breath. Watching instructional videos on the
internet, I learnt to relax my speech muscles while speaking. I noticed how
by just pausing at the right time, taking fuller breaths, I was able to speak
for an extra three secondsSV2 . Over the next 12 months, as my students learned conversational
English, I learnt in step with them. I had developed a daily 3-hour routine,
that included breathing exercises, diction lessons and even talking to myself
on the phone, as people walked by. SV3
two years of mentoring, eight of my twelve students made clear behavioural
progress at school, and two of them placed in the top 20% of their class
academicallySV4 . My speech had also shown considerable improvement –
although I still stammered sometimes, it was only in my speech, not in my head.
When I look back to this time, I realize that this experience not only helped
me overcome a personal impediment, but also made me develop my leadership
style. What motivated my strongest efforts was not just my own desire to
overcome a personal challenge in pursuit of my definition of ‘success’, but the
potential to positively impact young minds that I had grown attached to. My
values, beliefs and even dreams, are driven by a desire to seek out a larger,
purer motivation in every personal or professional endeavour.
I am sharing this with you because this has shaped
who I am today and the way I pursue opportunities. At IIT Delhi, with a new-found
confidence, I was keen to experience what I had missed out in school. Hence, I
took on multiple leadership roles, eventually heading the Academic Council as
its General Secretary. When I was awarded the ‘Best All-rounder’ at graduation
amongst my class of 800, I was humbled by the recognition and decided to share
my story with the 2500 strong audience during my acceptance speech. I stuttered
once while speaking for more than five minutes, and as I exited the stage, I genuinely
felt free for the first timeSV5 .
Today, when I work with consumer goods companies at
Bain, I seek to put myself in the shoes of the consumer, who use these
products, whether be it a soap, a biscuit or a beverage. After re-designing the
distribution set-up at our FMCG client, I felt proud not of the additional
dollars we generated, but the 80,000 villages that I helped gain access to our
client’s food products. At Hector, I petitioned regulatory authorities and government
authorities to institute quality standards for dairy products, while leading
the launch of a new butter milk drink.
One day I hope to launch my own company that provides nutritious and
affordable drinks for low-income families in India. Through packaging and
distribution innovations, I wish to solve the challenges presented by India’s
inadequate infrastructure and expensive logistics to ensure that society’s most
vulnerable are able to quench their thirst nutritionallySV6 . While I have responded well when
confronted with challenges in the past, the scale of what I wish to achieve is
not lost upon me. At HBS, I wish to experience the case learning environment
and hands-on learning methods like FIELD, to emerge as a leader with the
requisite skills to achieve my dream.
you give some context of your age here?
realized my speech will not be a hindrance for me in future.