Below I’ve pasted the the first Toastmasters speech I presented back on July 16. This is the script, so there was a little ad libbing here and there when it came to the real deal. But I thought I’d give you readers an idea of what I talked about. Let me know your brutal, honest thoughts.
I’m usually reluctant to share things like this because of course I’m my own worst critic…
I was five years old and had just gotten ready for bed. And like every evening around 9 o’clock, my mothercame into my bedroom and tucked me in. She turned out the lights, making sure my little night light was plugged into the wall, since I didn’t like being in the dark. Then, she said goodnight and left.
Ten minutes later she returned to find me sitting up in bed with a book in hand, somehow reading in the dim glow of my night light. And that’s probably my first memory of my love affair with books, with words. My brother and I looked forward to going to the library and bringing home stacks of books. He would read about sports stars like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. I would read books by my favorite author Judy Blume about teenage angst, getting bullied in school or being in the in-crowd. Just sitting in my room with a book, I felt like I could travel outside the four walls of my house in a matter of minutes.
For me, the power of words wasn’t just in books, it was in languages. I grew up with parents whose first language wasn’t English. Their homeland was a tiny state in the southern tip of India, called Kerala, famous for its lush, tropical, amazingly beautiful landscape. My family would travel there frequently throughout my life. I would fall asleep to the sounds of insects and animals outside my window and later awaken to the sound of a rooster crowing early in the morning and the smell of my grandmother cooking breakfast over a fire.
The language in Kerala is called Malayalam. It has lots of curvy letters. More than twice as many as the English alphabet. People say language is usually highly reflective of the culture, and such is true in Kerala. The Malayalam language reflects the high regard Malayalees have for their elders. Though I grew up calling my older brother by his name, my parents would scold me and tell me I needed to call him not Shane, but chacha or Shaneachachan, which means “older brother.” Also, you don’t address your elders with the word “you.” For example, if I were to address John it would be in third person. I wouldn’t say, “How are you doing, John” but rather “How is John doing?” I wouldn’t say, “You cooked a delicious meal, John.” I’d look at John and say “John’s meal was delicious.”
My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the late ’70s. There was a nursing shortage, and my mother, fresh out of nursing school, was able to acquire a visa, like many other women in Kerala at the time. If you walk into any Texas Medical Center institution, you’re likely to run into many women like my mother who came in the ’70s on a nursing visa. My mother says she came here with $7 in her pocket. I’m sure it took her years to adjust to the culture and the language and being away from her family and comfort zone. But she was always pretty good at English, and now she even thinks in English.
Oddly enough, the older I got, the less and less I spoke Malayalam, and now my American accent is glaringly obvious anytime I attempt to speak the language. Another foreign language took the place of my native language in my life. For seven years in school, I studied Spanish intensively, becoming a fan of the literature and – as cheesy as this sounds – I even named my guitar after my favorite Spanish author, Jorge Luis Borges.
Later I found out words were the key to my heart. Almost two years ago, the man I am now married to wrote me a letter expressing his feelings for me. This was a guy who hated reading and was even less of a fan of writing. When I saw the words he had written, I began to view him in a completely new way. And here we are now, almost five months into wedded bliss.”
Then I went into the nitty gritty about Sajan’s work and businesses and the work I do for The Blood Center, which also involves my love affair with words.
My conclusion: “I no longer need to sleep with a night light, but I do love a good read before bed.”
What should my next speech be about?