1986. Air India organised a speech competition for school children in Tamil Nadu. Captioned “Talk Your Way To USA”, competitors were supposed to talk extempore about Travel and Tourism. The winner got a return ticket from Chennai to the US for self, one parent and a teacher. Number two earned a return ticket to the US for self and a teacher. The third prize winner got a return ticket from Chennai to New Delhi for self, one parent and a teacher. There were three consolation prizes after that – return tickets from Chennai to Mumbai for the winner and a teacher. I came fourth and travelled by air - for the first time! The highlight of the final ceremony held on 14 November 1986 (Children’s Day) was the presence of the then Chief Minister MGR who graciously gave five thousand rupees each to all six finalists! Thanks to MGR’s presence, the final prize giving ceremony was shown as a News clipping at various movie theatres in Tamil Nadu. Needless to say, I was a hero at school for the rest of that year.
1986 was the first time Air India held this competition. It was repeated a few times after that. The next year, the competition was held in Tamil and I didn’t get past the district level.
I haven’t kept in touch with any of the other finalists or semi-finalists for that matter from 1986. It would be grand if I could. Please email me if you were there.