In my final year of engineering, I was part of a weight lifting competition. As the last participant came up to the podium, there was pin drop silence. A sense of tension and nervousness spread around the ring.
As the participant left the weight, the crowd erupted, “Cotton man | Cotton man, Cotton man | Cotton man”. This was not a dream but a harsh reality. I was not the winner but the unfortunate weight that was being lifted. Since the 60kg bar was broken, I was persuaded to be its replacement in the women’s weight lifting competition.
Ladies and gentleman
The word “cotton” for me is what “iron” was for Sardar Vallabhai Patel. When I had spent hardly 12 hours on this planet, the nurse in the hospital was cuddling me as if I were a ball of cotton. She plucked my cheeks, spanked me and cooed “such a cotton baby”. As my grandmother recalled, I didn’t cry, but just opened my mouth gasping for breath.
As I entered adolescence, I was makeshift luggage for my parents. For every one of the unforgettable picnics I had with them, my seat in the car was reserved - just above the spare tyre. I was flexible, foldable, and formidable enough to occupy that royal place and yet never get hurt. I was the “Cotton son” of my parents.
At sweet 16, came the best year of my life. Though my infatuation towards the fairer sex had increased, the vice-versa remained an illusion. To all my beautiful, dazzling, lovely female friends, I was just a cute friend. With a lot of effort, I did manage to ask a girl out. However, her reply was icing on my cotton cake. She said “relationships begin and end, but friendship is everlasting and I don’t want to lose you”. Finally she stated the inevitable, “You are my “Cotton friend””.

With a broken heart and my “Cotton” world, I wallowed on my agony for five long years. One chilly winter evening, I was burning with fever. As the night went cooler, my body temperature soared and I started shivering. With little energy left in me, I went to a nearby hospital. I entered the emergency ward to seek medication. An old, grey haired, wrinkled faced doctor attended to me and asked me to lie on the bed. He instructed the ward boy to insert a glucose drip into my left hand. The idea did not sound great as injections are like blood sucking vampires to me. I closed my eyes while the hospital staff was poking me and I turned my face to the other side to alleviate my already building trauma.
While I was facing the entry door, I saw an ambulance screech to halt just like in the movies. A man whose right half was drenched in blood was carried out of the van. The man was laid next to my bed. With such chaos around, my mind switched off. I just watched the doctors and nurses desperately trying to save that man. Swabs and swabs of cotton kept piling up while cleaning the wounds and stop the bleeding. After 20 minutes, the doctors succeeded, and the man was shifted to an ICU. As I lay there looking at those discarded swabs of cotton, I realized that the cotton soaked up the blood and helped clean the wounds. Though it could not heal the wound or reduce the pain, it did stop the bleeding and prevented further damage. That day those Cotton swabs helped me understand a brutal reality of life.
As soon as we are born, we are burdened with vagaries of life. The weight of those expectations gets heavier and we strive to become “iron men”. While few succeed, many start bleeding due to the weight on their backs. If you look around, there are “iron men and women” around you, each carrying that weight and bleeding. You cannot heal the agony caused by their wounds. By just listening and letting them cry on your shoulder, you can at least help soften their sorrows like the swab of cotton.
Unknowingly, I lived as a cotton baby to that nurse, cotton son to my parents and cotton friend to my love, but now whenever I see the wounds in the mettle of iron men and women, I perform the role of a “cotton man”. Being lifted as a weight in women’s weight lifting competition is ignominy for iron men but an esteem for cotton men.
Today, the world needs an “Iron man” but mankind needs a “Cotton man”. The fulcrum of humanity is tilted towards Iron men and languishing for more cotton men to balance it. Yes, I can proudly say I am a “Cotton man”, but can you ?

-Pawas Chandra
2nd Runner-up - Division B International Prepared Speech Contest (2010)

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