The other day I was invited to Sagar School in Rajasthan to serve as the “Chief Guest” for the students’ inter-house athletics competition. I happily accepted as it’s hard to refuse the intriguing combination of an Indian road trip and speaking to hundreds of youth about sports.
I roped in two of my colleagues to come with me as roadtrips are certainly more fun with others and we made the couple hour journey to the Alwar district of Rajasthan. Now I must say that Sagar School is not just any school, it’s a 180 acre resort tucked in the middle of nowhere housing around 400 students and staff who have access to some of the most incredible infrastructure in the Indian education system.
Ok, so back to the title of this post. Being “Chief Guest” at an Indian school function is definitely something that everyone must experience. As “Chief Guest” you are treated with an extraordinary amount of respect, it’s almost embarrassing at times. They send a car to pick you up from your house or office, you are greeted at the front gate of the school by a special greeting committee with garlands and gifts, they then give you a guesthouse to rest up in before going on a wonderful tour of the school followed by lunch with the Principal and some special students during which the rest of the students just stare at you while they guess who you are among each other. Post this hoopla, you are invited to the assembly area to stand on this elevated dais and the students salute you during their march before you officially declare the competition open and then go back to your special seat next to the Principal where a series of uniformed men continually force chai and cookies down your throat. Finally, you are called up again to make the 10 minute speech and hand out awards which is pretty much the only thing you actually contribute to the entire day.
I wasn’t the least bit nervous about my speech until all this extra-hospitality and respect was bestowed onto me and then my stomach filled with butterflies as I realized that there is no way that my words and cheesy smile could compensate for all of this love.
In the end, it all worked out though. I was so charged up by the graciousness of the students and faculty that I delivered what I felt like was a inspiring speech about how sports have impacted and guided every phase of my life and the top 5 ways in which sports can contribute to a better life. Well, it sounded good in my head however I’m never quite sure if Indian youth every truly understand my thick American accent especially when I speak via microphone, however I figured I smiled, paced and waved my hands around enough to make it seem like I was comfortable and knew what I was talking about hence the most likely reason for the applause at the end (at least they understand “Thank you and have a good day”).
I left on a high and remained high even when driving way too fast through messy Rajasthani and Haryanvi roads and almost getting beaten up by a group of unruly villagers who were angry at our driver. I got home in the evening, reminisced on the beauty of the day and truly wished that everyone has an opportunity to be a “Chief Guest” even just for a day.