Manish was sitting under the banyan tree on the school grounds. He was reading an essay on public speaking. Next day was the elocution competition - the final event of the 'Inter-Public School Meet'. Right now Manish's Public school - Nagarjuna Public School and Nalanda Public School were running neck and neck for the all round shield. While Nalanda had 146 points, Nagarjuna was close behind with 145. The other nine Public Schools of the State were nowhere in the picture.
Manish was to represent his school in the elocution competition. His strongest rival was Rohit of Nalanda. If Manish won the first prize he would collect five points for his school, making the grand total an unbeatable 150. If Manish came second and Rohit first, then with Manish's three points Nagarjuna would be 148 while Nalanda would win the all round shield with 151 points.
Manish was feeling very nervous. He knew the hopes of the entire school lay with him. He was determined to try his very best to keep his school flag flying high.
"You are Manish of class nine, isn't it?"
Manish looked up. A young man of around twenty was standing in front of him. He was thin, tall and quite shabbily dressed.
"You are representing your school in the elocution competition?"
"Yes, but who are you?"
"Never mind who I am. I can help you win the competition tomorrow?"
He looked around furtively and lowering his voice said, "I have come to know the topic of the elocution. I'll give it to you in return for some money."
"How do you know the topic?"
"Why are you bothered about that? If you are interested in knowing the topic tell me. We can discuss the terms."
"No, I am not. And if you don't get lost I'll report to the Principal."
The young man glared at him and turning around scampered off in the direction of the school guest house. A little later Manish was joined by Gyan Arora - the School Captain. Manish told him about the incident.
"He offered you the topic and you refused! Have you gone mad Manish? Do you know what winning the elocution means? It will give our school the all round shield - an honor for which we have all been trying for the last six months."
"But Gyan, how could I accept his offer. It would be cheating."
"Come on Manish, you had not gone searching for the topic. It was offered to you on a platter. And you refused it. Don't you realize the importance of winning?"
"I do. Winning is important - but only by fair means, not by unfair ones."
"I don't want to argue with you. Tell me which way that fellow went. I'll go and get the topic from him."
"Please Gyan, if you do that, I'll withdraw my name. I'd rather lose than win by cheating."
The next day at eleven the topic was announced -"Means are as important as the end." Manish had an hour to prepare. He hurried to the library and began noting down the points and creating the framework of his speech.
He was the second speaker and Rohit the last. Manish was quite happy with his speech. The response of the audience too had been encouraging. As Rohit walked upto the dais Manish knew his fate would be decided in the next few minutes.
Rohit marshalled his arguments beautifully. He was logical and convincing. As he walked back to thunderous applause, Manish was sure Rohit would win and in the process give his team the title. However, Manish was happy that he would be losing to a worthy opponent.
It was now time for the judge to declare the results. The judge was introduced by the Principal. His name was Dr. L.K. Chary and he was a retired professor of English.
"Dear friends, before I announce the results I would like to relate an incident which has had a great bearing on this competition. Yesterday, I was sitting on a bench in one corner of your school grounds when I overheard a conversation. A young man was offering to disclose the topic of the elocution to one of the competitors for a price. The young boy refused outright. As the young man made his way to the guest house I quietly followed him. I found him talking to another boy and handing him a piece of paper. Today I found that both the boys spoke very well. The name of the boy who accepted the young ruffian's offer is Rohit Murthy. He spoke the best, but because of his dishonesty I disqualify him. The scoundrel who 'sold' the topic of the elocution to Rohit is the son of a typist working in Nagarjuna Public School. He has been caught and punished. And now we come to the boy who refused to cheat. His name is Manish Roy and he is the winner of this year's elocution competition. The entire school should be proud of him. Friends, the topic of the elocution was "Means are as important as the end." Manish not only spoke well, but he also practiced what he believed in. By his conduct yesterday, he proved that if the means are improper then the end is unworthy."
That evening when Gyan Arora's name was called to receive the all round shield he went up to the dais and picked up the mike.
"Respected Principal, teachers, parents and friends, we are proud that our school has bagged the all round shield. As per the convention the School Captain receives the award. But this year I want to invite Manish Roy of class nine to come and receive the shield. If it wasn't for him we would never have pipped Nalanda Public School to the post. We are proud of Manish not only for his oratorical skills but also for his honesty."
As Manish walked up to the dais, the deafening applause was like music to his ears.