About the presenter: Harish Usgaonker writes: I am an IT professional from Goa - India, working in the industry for more than five years. During most of my student life, I hated being a stutterer. Taking the path of acceptance and pushing myself to face fears has helped me on my recovery path. I co-ordinate a self-help group in Goa with the help of The Indian Stammering Association (TISA), and have also organized a communication workshop to help the PWS. I want to be associated with the self-help movement and continue to help the PWS.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

The Magic Interview

by Harish Usgaonker
from India

It was during my junior college days (11th and 12th grade) that stammering began to show it's ugly face as with regards to severity and consequently began to affect my personality. I was in a new institution with new people around me and a very de-motivating Principal who looked down upon some of the students. I started my early days in the institution facing constant discouragement and disbelief from the Principal. Also, I was one of the shortest and with rather boyish features compared to the others who were taller and manlier, which led to a lot of bullying. Both these factors induced in me a lot of fear and lack of confidence, and my stammering aggravated. It eventually turned me into shy, introvert, fearful and quiet student in class. With time it evolved into self-hatred.

When I went on to do my under-graduation studies, I began to live in an inferiority complex. I was in a continual struggle of trying to appear fluent, hiding my stammer and avoiding talking to the opposite sex. Many a times I managed to be a covert stammerer. And a few other times, I really had worst spells of blocks which marred my self-esteem.

The first time I felt a need to change was, when I cleared the entrance exam for a master's program in Information Technology. Despite always being interested in Information technology, because the IT jobs asked for 'Excellent Communication Skills', I graduated in chemistry and took a job as an analyst in a chemical industry. Within a month I realized that this was not meant for me and it was something I won't be able to do for the rest of my life. I quit the job and decided to pursue my masters in IT. I started my master's degree with a mindset of pushing myself and getting over my fear of talking. I was now interacting more during the classrooms and had started talking more with my peers - especially the opposite sex. But public speaking and presentations still gave me sleepless nights.

This battle against my words continued even after I joined my first job. As social networking on internet began to emerge, I began to connect with other PWS in India and the world, but with an anonymous identity. One of the friends I thus met introduced me to an association called The Indian Stammering Association (TISA). I browsed their site, and it spoke about acceptance. I perceived it to be a foolish attitude of trying to convince PWS to give up working on your stammer, and just accept that you cannot overcome it. I tried to keep myself away from TISA.

Surprisingly, the biggest turning point in my life that led me to change my perceptions about stammering came in the form of a 60-minute TV-program, which featured an interview of a Bollywood Star - Hrithik Roshan. It was well known that this star also dealt with stammering during his childhood, and that he overcame it. There was nothing much spoken about his stammer other than this. But this was the first interview in which Hrithik was talking (or rather pouring) his heart out about stammering. He started off talking about how his life was a hell during childhood and then how he struggled ordering in a restaurant during his first date. He also talked about how he practiced speeches before accepting awards. I could relate myself to each and every word that he was talking that day. I was astonished how similar his struggles were to mine.

This interview not only just inspired me, but it got me to think too. Here was a star, who had established himself as one of the top Bollywood actors. He could have well talked about overcoming his stammering. But in the interview he admitted that he still stutters, and needs to practice daily for an hour. Despite being a celebrity, he accepted that he still stammers on a national TV channel. I realized that he was actually practicing 'Acceptance'. I began to think- if he can talk about his stammering with no fear or guilt or shame in front of the entire nation, then why are we always living with a struggle trying to hide our stammering? Why are we averse to talking about it with our family and friends? What makes us so much hateful about ourselves and our stammering?

This was how I learnt what acceptance meant. I remembered TISA again. I went back to their site and read more about acceptance. I immediately started practicing acceptance myself by gradually starting to talk about my stammering with others. I started with my parents, then with my close friends, colleagues, relatives, cousins and slowly moved on to talking about it with my sub-ordinates and bosses. The feeling was liberating. When I stopped making attempts of hiding something which I could not, and began to feel comfortable talking about it, it freed me from living under the pressure of always performing or passing tests into the real world trying to hide my stammer and appear fluent.

I soon started a self-help group in my city with the help of TISA, and contacted a few PWS I had already known. As I began co-ordinating the meetings and met more PWS in my city, the stigma that I had developed all these years because of my stutter was melting down. I went on to continuing working on myself, my communication skills and stammering effortlessly, while also helping a few others in the self help group. I would not have had the courage to open myself to all this, if it was not for that TV interview. That 60-minute interview, which I now refer to as 'the magic interview', may have been just another episode for the producer; for me it was a U-turn which resulted in a completely reversing perception about me and my stutter.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

SUBMITTED: May 22, 2011
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