Ma’am, Can I Recite the National Anthem?

I rose a tad bit early that morning to silence the blaring sounds of my alarm clock and stretched skywards to funnel in the first rays of the sun onto my skin. It was one of those rare mornings where I just couldn’t stop smiling. Rightly so! I was going to be on stage in school, reciting the national anthem in the assembly. The hairbrush neatly strode over my entire scalp. My shoes were polished a little too bright that day. My uniform, neatly folded over hangers, was hung over the doorknob. I was seen off to school by the proud faces of my parents that lovely morning.


 I walked onto the assembly stage with immense pride, for my voice was going to echo around that magnanimous campus. I stepped up to the mic to introduce myself, “ Good morning Principal ma’am, teachers, and my dear friends”. Well, this is what I would have ideally wanted myself to say. Instead, I got stuck at the “Good mo..…” My class teacher had a flush of embarrassment down her face, the principal looked at me as though I was a complete waste of time. As for the students, hundreds of them burst into brutal laughter. I ran off stage, to the closest washroom and locked myself into one of the stalls, and wept.


The worst part of suffering from a severe stutter in your childhood is that there isn’t a legitimate etiology that can be treated. Thus, you end up believing the fact that this is how you are meant to be. Inadequate.  So there I was, questioning myself, day in and day out, turning myself into a chaotic lump of depression. The unawareness regarding disorders, and the specially-abled in our country, has been percolating down generations, and this translates into anything that is off-normal being tagged as weird or funny.


Treading the Sahara of toxicity with my legs half sunk in its sands, I would painfully persist to find ground on small pebbles of hope and hop over them before they lost to the brutal sands of poison. My surroundings had trained my conscience to believe and make peace with the fact that I would never add any value to the table.

Indifference is the worst human emotion by far. While hate at least recognizes the subject on which it acts, the former categorizes the same as irrelevant, which questions the very purpose of your existence, to which a naïve tiny tot has no answer. All he can do is suffer its repercussions every single day. I failed to escape the situations where I was made a complete mockery of. There were certain instances, so grave, that I ended up feeling breathless, like a huge rock was slowly crushing my lungs to a pulp.


Family get-togethers were the bane to my existence. Indian aunties would line up to judge everything around them. The scrutiny was so intense and stringent that they would have been overtly productive airport security. They put me into multiple uncomfortable situations. I would fumble real bad, out of fear. What they considered light-hearted conversations, were the gateway to hell for me. This got me to question the very concept of blood relations. Did it give them the license to throw a “loved one” under the bus, only because his silence and a sense of respect were taken for granted?


Has the world turned so toxic, that any opportunity that one gets to belittle anyone off-normal, is grabbed onto with immediate effect? Is this for the joy of their delusional superiority? Or is it to console their mediocrity? Whatever that may be, the feeling is as short-lived as a bubble on its way to losing its form with ugly abruption.


In hindsight, I feel that I just needed assurance. I needed someone to say that it is going to be alright. I feel that the younger me needed the elder me as his sibling. Today, as a budding speech-language pathologist, I witness numerous such kids every day. When I sit with them, I see my younger self in them. That person, who could never imagine a future on this planet. I wish I could reach out to that little me, and let him know that the tears rolling down his cheeks will be gently wiped off, only to be replaced by the radiance of  self-confidence.


 Life comes full circle they say. After this incident, I am sure that it does. It was the school reunion. There I was, queuing up to go onto the very stage that decimated my fragile self-worth to shambles a decade ago. A sea of children appeared on the vast green lawn in quick succession as though it were a reverse domino effect. The prayer group gathered around the mic to undertake the assembly proceedings.


Towards the end, I knew that it was going to happen. I gazed skywards at the Indian flag fluttered with pride, and memories of that day struck hard. I probably had a million thoughts racing through my head and my brain seemed to drown in an ocean of chaos. Beads of sweat raced down my spine. Amongst this mayhem of my being, I heard myself ask the Principal,

”Ma’am, can I recite the national anthem?”




Written by Tejas Kulkarni for MTTN

Edited by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN

Featured Image by Josh Cochran

Artwork by Nick Lu


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