We're in the Same Boat Brother , the song is attributed to Paul Robeson and popularized internationally by Bhupen Hazarika. When Hazarika was studying at Columbia University in New York City, he came into contact with Paul Robeson. The speech is dedicated to my friend - I seek forgiveness.
Childhood can be a period of adventure, amazement and awe but for me it was also a period of strife , discord and upheaval. My hometown in India was a great place to grow up. My elementary school was small and teachers were affable, attentive and accessible. There weren’t a lot of pupils in the class ; we could easily connect and have a close bond with each other. My best friend Mustafa was from a separate neighborhood, a few blocks away from ours. Although we followed different religions, our families were close and used to visit each other. We were always invited to Eid al-Fitr , a festival celebrated by the Muslims to mark the end of the month-long fasting. There was a lot of food, and I relished the mouthwatering dishes prepared by my friend’s mother.
There was no school bus and almost everyone walked to school. Walking to and from the school was exciting. Each day, I would stand outside patiently waiting for Mustafa to join me, and then we walked together meeting others along the way. Listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, the sweet songs of the temple, the lovely ringing of the church bells and the prayers from the mosque, seeing friends and feeling connected with the community was a blessing.
During the early eighties when I started high school, my home-state was engulfed by an uprising against the influx of immigrants entering illegally from a bordering country. Our people fearful of being outnumbered by them and becoming a minority in our own land, began a peaceful movement demanding the deportation of the illegals. However, the agitation soon deepened the chasm among communities. Every day, we listened to the radio as village after village was burned by violent mobs from both sides. The turmoil began to reverberate through our neighborhood. One day, some activists carried out a torch lit procession; I joined impulsively - “Illegal immigrants go back”. But as I began shouting, the compassionate, comforting , caring Ankur suddenly was overpowered by a beast – beast of intolerance , indifference and ignorance and the beast roared, “Illegal immigrants go back , go back , go back.” As the mob entered the neighborhood of my friend, the shouting intensified; everyone in that small Muslim community felt threatened and began barricading themselves inside. From a distance I saw Mustafa in his doorway clutching his little sister’s hand ready to protect her from being hurt by anyone. Then , someone from the crowd , to my horror, threw a burning torch at their house. As the fire burned, I saw the frightened family; I was scared for them, they were scared of me.
After the incident, my friend stopped seeing me. He started taking a roundabout route to school and during classes we sat on opposite sides. For the first time , we were not invited to the festival of Eid al-Fitr. I was shaken; we spoke the same language, we went to the same school, we were bound together by many ties of affinity and relationship – how did this happen? But it was happening everywhere as an atmosphere of fear and gloom descended into communities, neighborhoods, and towns.
One day, I was walking to school, alone. When I reached the town sport stadium, I heard a voice followed by music. As I neared, the song became clear, “we are in the same boat brother”. I instantly recognized the voice; it was Bhupen Hazarika, the iconic cultural figure, singer and social activist of our era. Hazarika was leading a group of singers, writers and artistes through the riot-torn countryside, singing tales of peace. As the song was being played everyone present at the stadium was transfixed ; I witnessed something that I had never seen before – a singer armed only with a microphone completely alleviating the atmosphere of fear and gloom. Soon everyone lined up for an impromptu procession. People started singing along while others started playing drums, flutes and guitars. As the open truck, led by the singer, entered the town main square , motorists stopped and began honking, commuters leaned out of buses and school girls danced to say “We are in the same boat brother.” Then the procession entered the neighborhood of my friend. I saw his parents greeting the crowd. My heart stopped; I realized I was forgiven. My friend’s little sister was waving at me. I knelt down, looked in her eyes and held out my hand – “Can I be your brother.” Then someone handed her a small bell, and she began ringing it loudly. The lovely sound of the bell filled the air as my friend , his sister, mom and dad joined the procession walking hand in hand. “We are in the same boat brother.” The voice of the singer rose, it soared higher, louder and further, and at that moment the last man in my neighborhood was liberated. The song and musical mission led by the singer had a dramatic effect on people ; the social division and the religious intolerance were washed away and peace returned to my state. My friend and I again started walking together to school listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, the sweet songs of the temple, the lovely ringing of the church bells and the prayer from the mosque.
Friends, the song reminds me always that We all may look completely different on the outside but underneath we are all the same, our hearts beat exactly the same, we are all the same, we are all created equal.
Let’s ring the bell of brotherhood once again
And if you shake one end
You’re gonna rock the other
It’s the same boat, brother
We’re in the same boat, brother
We’re in the same boat, brother
What a powerful story that is so relevant in this day. And people can see that these dynamics are universal across many cultures.
Jim Jameson, Colleyville Toastmasters
I was very touched by your speech. You had created a very well structured speech that had a good balance of pathos and realism. It is a very powerful speech and you should use it again another time. Keep creating these kinds of speeches. This one was very memorable.
Mary Mukhtarian , TNT Toastmasters
Ankur & fellow toastmasters thank you for allowing me the honor of providing some feedback on your speech. I find myself quite moved by your speech and I think USA Today made a good decision with their invitation for you to share this story. It is so poignant, and hopeful given the state of our country today. You really took us on a journey with you today, Ankur. Living in a small community. Walking to school with your friends. Getting to know one another so well. And of course, your best friend in the other neighborhood. The innocence of children and how they don’t see the divisions but look for ways to connect and play and love each other. I can hear the sounds as you walk to school. The singing, the bells, the prayers. I can smell all the food at the celebration and think of the wonderful spices and flakey pastry. Fear is such a powerful emotion. I think we see frequently how dangerous fear can be and you certainly
painted an emotional picture for us. Watching the demonstrators go through the town and joining in. There is such power in being a part of a crowd all moving in the same direction. It can be intoxicating. I can see your young face shouting and joining in as the beast took over. Great imagery there. My heart sank when you got to your friend’s home expecting what happened. The loss and division caused by fear was evident and lasting. Can’t you almost hear the conversations in Mustafa’s home? However, the joy of peace sowed by the singer reminding everyone that we are all in the same boat brother. Taking her message to the crowd and then out into the community. Preaching and sharing this joyful truth that changed hearts and minds. Being a part of this better way of thinking. Inspiring. My heart was full when you reunited in your friendship and once again walked to school together, friends walking hand in hand, with the words forever in your head “We’re in the same boat brother.”
If I were to provide some feedback, more vocal variety and slowing down, speeding up. You started to do that when you talked about the beast, but I want more. Work on your vocal inflections, make some parts louder (like the section about the beast, really build your voice to be louder and more impactful, almost acting it out). You can make the section about your friend no longer being your friend just slightly slower and quieter (just make sure you are within time and that we can always hear you).
To summarize, your speech was powerful and timely. I think it is a message we all need to hear. Your imagery was tangible and illustrative. I would love to see more demonstrative vocal variety and intensity. Add some drama, don’t be afraid of it.
Bridgette Beal has been a Toastmaster since May of 2021.
She quickly jumped into the Club Education VP role & is now pinch hitting for the D25 Public Relations Manager role for the remainder of 2022. Bridgette is a new resident of Texas and super happy to be here with her husband, daughter, Mom and myriad pets; including Bean the cat who likes to help her type and messages the team regularly. When not at work or a Toastmasters meeting, Bridgette can be found in Bible study, writing to one of her 30 pen pals or gleefully creating some kind of art is her favorite place in her home…the craft room.