Body language is often not hard to read. Slumped shoulders tell their own story. A frowning visage narrates its grim message. The slant of a head, the stretching or relaxing of the lips, a bouncy walk, a drag-footed plod, they all convey coded detail to the observer. So, it’s not difficult really to read the anticipation in people who are looking forward to something. The eyes shine brighter, speech is a tad more excited, the walk has just a little more spring in the step, there’s a heightened air of … expectation. And this is all easily discernible in the pupils of this prestigious high school as they file into the hall on the school’s Founders Day.
They are going to come face to face with a multimillionaire, a man knocking on the door of billionaire status! They cannot wait. They settle silently into their seats. Some, who have a window view, crane their necks in an effort to be the first to spot the guest’s arrival.
The betting is on what kind of vehicle will drive him up to the portico in the main arched entrance way, just below the hall. Some feel he will arrive, dignified, in a black Mercedes. With tinted windows. Shaded from the prying eyes of the public. Others beg to differ. They, these ones who watch Formula 1 Grand Prix races in their leisure time at home, think he will roll up either in a Bugatti or a Lamborghini or, at the very least, a stretch door limousine. A few lone dissenters think he’ll make his entrance in a stately Rolls. And so, when a dusty autorickshaw does roll in, bumpily, and park under the archway, nobody pays it any attention.
Not a single pair of eyes gives the man who steps out of the vehicle a second glance. He isn’t attired in a suit and tie. Or even a pair of jeans as some of the radical hopefuls had predicted. This person is dressed in traditional Indian threads — a pyjama kurta — and for footwear he isn’t wearing Clarks or Nike trainers, but leather slippers. He most certainly cannot be ‘the chief guest’.
The pupils’ watching eyes wash over him briefly then continue their vigil for the next vehicle that they hope will arrive soon. They cannot keep up this level of high anticipation much longer. So when, a few minutes later, the school principal walks in with his humbly clad guest, there’s a distinct lack of alacrity with which the pupils rise. They don’t spring up from their seats and stand to attention. Instead there’s a slow, lazy unhinging of the knees as they force their way upright.
This is not at all what they’d been expecting. This has gone contrary to all norms. This is not how a multimillionaire, soon to be billionaire, makes an appearance. Anyhow, they stand disinterestedly and then are requested to be seated and do so with equal disinterest.
The principal, according to tradition, introduces his guest then steps aside. The guest, who heads a huge conglomerate, steps up. And within a few minutes he manages to transfix his audience, first with the power of his delivery and then with the quality of what he chooses to say. He tells them of his humble origins, the hardship of finding a square meal and the importance of staying true to one’s roots and one’s self.
When he finally winds up after ten minutes, saying that he’d already spoken too long and one should never tax or test the attention span of an audience when speaking, he leaves his young listeners with a simple, pertinent message for success: Let yourself be driven by values and powered by intellect, rather than be driven by ambition and powered by intellect.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.