The short vacation after the term tests came to an end just as it appeared it had started. The little monkeys of Vanarapuri dragged their schoolbags and their feet reluctantly into the school. Suri missed the vacation already. He could sleep in late, watch his favourite cartoons whenever he pleased, and most of all he loved playing the Action Monkey game on his Game-Monkey handheld device.
The popular comic book series had been made as a game and all the little fans of the comics had taken to the game with interest. They whooped with joy as they helped Action Monkey overcome his obstacles and defeat the villain, Gruesome Gibbon. But all those happy moments had come crashing to an end with the school reopening. Suri knew that the second term would be when the toughest assignments and class projects will be assigned to the students and they would have to work hard to complete them. His mother, Tara, had hinted at a surprise in school as well.
The little monkeys piled into the class room and immediately started chattering about their exploits with Action Monkey. Suri was completely immersed in the discussion that he didn’t notice Hanu Howler, their language teacher, enter the class. Hanu Howler was a very strict teacher and he did not like unnecessary chattering in his class. The little monkeys were very afraid of his loud voice and the stern punishments he doled out to students he deemed those merited them.
‘Ahem!’ Hanu Howler cleared his throat and immediately the little monkeys fell quiet. They looked at Mr. Howler and each other uncertainly.
‘Suri!’ boomed Mr. Howler, ‘Eki, Sammy, Nani, Pilu… stand up!’
The ones whose names were called out stood up. They bowed their heads not willing to meet Mr. Howler’s stare.
‘So, you are quite interested in talking about video games instead of maintaining discipline in the class.’ It was a statement, not a question. The little monkeys did not answer.
‘Your silence says a thousand words,’ Continued Mr. Howler. ‘A thousand words how you are guilty of indiscipline, and you know that I do not tolerate indiscipline.’
The trial was over. The monkeys waited with bated breath for the punishment.
‘Each one of you will make a presentation in front of the class tomorrow. A thousand-word presentation on the history of Vanarapuri and its most famous heroes who were known for their discipline and adherence to rules.’
The monkeys looked at each other with terror in their eyes. A thousand-word presentation had to be researched, written, and then presented in front of the class. For Suri, this was beyond nightmare. He was always uncomfortable in the spotlight, and making a presentation in front of his whole class and Mr. Howler was unimaginable. Tears sprung from his eyes immediately.
‘Now, let’s get back to our lessons…’ boomed Mr. Howler.
Suri spent the rest of the day hiding in the library. He had few dusty old books spread in front of him as he tried to read about Vanarapuri’s rich history and its many heroes. He started jotting down certain details he found interesting in a notebook but gave up after an hour. More than preparing the presentation, he was afraid of standing in front of the class trying to present it. He knew that he would get nervous and make a goobaloo out of himself in front of his friends. He looked at the clock and realised that there were still few hours before the school ended. Suri was bored, but he didn’t want to go back to his class again.
A sudden idea came into his mind and he fished desperately into his schoolbag and grinned with glee as his hands closed around the Game-Monkey handheld device. He decided to spend fifteen minutes playing Action Monkey before starting to work on his presentation again. Since he was seated in the farthest corner of the library, Suri knew that he would not be disturbed. The last thing he needed was one of his classmates trying to borrow his Game-Monkey or worse, ratting him out to the librarian or to one of the teachers. Quickly, he reduced the volume and loaded the ‘Action Monkey – Into the Mysterious Ruins’ game and started playing.
His fingers moved fast over the keys as Action Monkey jumped, swung, leapt, and rolled his way past various monsters and minions of Gruesome Gibbon. Suri remembered his own adventure in the Vanarapuri ruins and shuddered a little. But soon, all was forgotten as he became engrossed in the game.
He was about to complete the fifth level, when a loud voice interrupted him.
‘Well! There you are Suri!’ It was Mr. Hanu Howler. Suri gulped as he realised that Mr. Howler had caught him playing inside the library, and that too during class hours. Suri scrambled to hide his Game-Monkey inside his bag but Mr. Howler had already come to his side.
‘Well, well!’ boomed Mr. Howler, ‘What do we have here? Do I spy a little monkey playing a game inside the school library? Why aren’t you inside your class?’
Suri couldn’t find the words to answer Mr. Howler. He tried and after much effort squeaked, ‘Presentation..’
‘How wonderful that you are spending time inside the library to research for your presentation,’ Mr. Howler said in a sarcastic voice. ‘But I don’t see anything on your notebook here.’
Suri gulped and said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Howler.’
Mr. Howler sat opposite to Suri and said in a much softer voice, ‘Sorry for what, Suri? Bunking classes? Not preparing for your presentation? Playing video games inside school? What are you sorry for?’
‘All of them, Mr. Howler!’
Mr. Howler shook his head, ‘I don’t think you are sorry for any of that, Suri. Otherwise, you would have either been in class along with your classmates or at least made headway into the assignment. I think you are sorry that you’ve not been able to resist temptation. Am I correct?’
Suri nodded. Mr. Howler sighed and continued, ‘Do you know why I set you this presentation?’
‘To punish me.’
Mr. Howler smiled kindly and shook his head, ‘No, Suri! I gave you this assignment because I know that you are not comfortable in public speaking. Neither are Eki, Sammy, Nani, and Pilu. I chose you five so that you could practise making a presentation in front of your own classmates first before making one with the whole city as an audience.’
‘I don’t understand, Sir!’
‘Suri, did your mother tell you that a surprise awaits you at school. Well, the surprise is that we are going to present a play about Vanarapuri on the City Day and I have chosen you and your friends to play important roles in it.’
Suri gulped! Him? In a play? Surely, Mr. Howler was joking…
‘No, Suri! It’s not a joke and I’m most definitely not pulling your tail. I have noticed that you talk with a lot of passion and expression when you are with your friends and you talk about things you like. That could be easily translated to a good performance on stage. But I know that you have stage-fright and you are not comfortable in front of an audience.’
‘Yes, Mr. Howler! I don’t think I can do it.’
‘Do you remember the tree race on your birthday?’
Suri’s face reddened in shame. Of course, he remembered that infamous race. He nodded.
‘Do you know how many monkeys were watching you then?’
‘No, Mr. Howler! I did not. All I was focused on was on swinging to the next tree branch and winning the race.’
Mr. Howler smiled and clapped Suri on his back, ‘Exactly! The key to perform without fear before an audience is not to focus on them. You need to concentrate on the job on hand so much so that you won’t even realize that there’s an audience in front of you.’
‘Will it work?’
‘Of course, it will! If you concentrate well. But I don’t think concentrating is difficult for you going by the way you were engrossed with your Game-Monkey.’
Suri smiled. He felt confidence seeping into him as a result of Mr. Howler’s words. ‘I’m very sorry for my behaviour, Mr. Howler. I came to the library to prepare for the presentation but I was so bothered by the fact that I have to perform in front of audience that I lost interest. But now, I feel like I can do it.’
Mr. Howler clapped his hands and said, ‘Well done! Now, pick a character from Vanarapuri’s history who was known for his discipline and start preparing your presentation.’
Suri smiled, he had an idea. ‘Sir, the only person who I can think of is my father, Mr. Angad. He is the head of the City Security and I have never seen him break a single rule and he is my hero.’
Mr. Howler beamed and said, ‘Excellent! Your father indeed is a hero. Start your preparation and while you are going to be busy, allow me to borrow your Game-Monkey. I haven’t been able to cross level six.’