Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev should have spoken at the God debate

In the five months since Rhetauracle was born the sheer internationality of the Internet has been brought dramatically home to me. Yes, of course I knew that it was all over the world: what I hadn’t altogether appreciated was how eager the world was to be reached. Already I have readers in around thirty countries. It seems therefore at least courteous that I avoid being too insular. The difficulty is that though I can stumblingly make myself halfway understood in three other languages it is only in English that I can hope to be able to analyse a speech.  Nevertheless the Anglosphere includes a huge subcontinent that I have thus far neglected. And the curious thing is that I was born in India, and my mother before me.

I found a rich seam to mine for speeches: The India Today Conclave. I shall be dipping into it over several postings, but first I want to explore a speech that frankly belonged in the series of postings that I concluded last week. Am I dreaming, or did I bemoan the lack of the word ‘spiritual’ in the Oxford Union God debate? Likewise, did I or did I not wearily regret the lack of new and inspirational lines of reasoning? And do you recall my quoting Andre Gide – “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”? Stand by for a Seeker of Truth.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev begins speaking at 11:30.  Javed Akthar, who proceeds him makes a ten-minute speech that essentially introduces the debate entitled Is Spirituality Relevant To Leadership?. I may have a look at his speech in a future posting, but Jaggi Vasudev is today’s focus.

That’s what I call an opening! None of the speakers for the Oxford Union motion began their speech with a prayer. Why not? Debates in Parliament start with prayers.

Do you want to grab your audience? One way is to surprise them in some way. He surprised me twice: first with the chanting and then with the quiet “Hello everyone” that followed. It was a glorious amalgam of ethos and decorum. I sensed a smile of delight forming on my lips.

And it stayed there!

This man is awesome. I use the word literally: he fills me with awe. On many levels.

If you chose to click in around half a minute before he began you will have seen how he pointedly stood to one side of the lectern, causing one of the crew to have to move the microphone to him. (What a pity that he pointed the mic at his mouth. At his eyes would have been better, because we get a little bit of popping.) And there he stands, paperless of course, with beautiful wisdom pouring out of him for 45 minutes – yes, there’s also a part 2.

He expresses himself stunningly well. His enunciation is clear and effortless. The structure of his arguments makes for wonderful digestibility. His phrasing is that of one steeped not only in the wisdoms of the East but the finest literature of the West. Forget airy-fairy: his analysis of spirituality is right here, right now, feet firmly on the ground and fired at you from the hip in clusters of those figures of speech in my glossary. Between 15:13 and 16:40 you should spot two anaphoras, one epistrophe and an extended asyndeton.  In many ways he is a copybook speaker – so much so, that I think I shall have to go back and look for further examples of his speaking before I press the publish button and commit this many superlatives to posterity.

My notepad, as well as being smothered in technical observations (that I decided to spare you) is also covered in aphorisms for life, gleaned from this speech. I mentioned that there is a part 2. Beginning at 08:14 there’s a very funny story. It is with huge reluctance that I am telling you this, because I’m dying to steal it.

The Oxford Union brought in Cornel West for their Occupy Wall Street debate. For all that he was hypnotically compelling, West was something of a histrionic cabaret in that setting. Had Jaggi Vasudev been in the God debate, on their own terms and on their own turf, he’d have stormed them.

Boris – again!

I thought I’d talk about Boris. Well why not? Everyone else is! From the notorious Eddie Mair interview to the BBC2 documentary to comments published about either, Boris has been ubiquitous for the past week. Once again I marvel at my instinctive use of that name. OK, the name is unusual; but still it is a mark of something very particular in a person when friend and foe alike use his Christian name.

I didn’t see the interview, I have better things to do at that time on a Sunday morning, but I did see a flutter of tweets, proclaiming that he had been ‘done-over’, ‘roasted’, ‘defenestrated’, etc, so I later went to see the podcast. In fact, none of those things had happened. Mair made a provocative statement (10:22), “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you!”. There were various options available to Boris at that moment, and he selected the best. He maintained his humour. Also, bear in mind that we don’t see Mair’s face at that moment: I rather suspect there was a twinkle.

Twinkle or not, just try imagining Paxo throwing that one at Blair! There would have been an explosion just off camera with Alastair Campbell‘s name on it. There was a huge twinkle on Robin Day‘s face when asking the question that had John Nott storming out of the studio all those years ago at the time of the Falklands War. By his staying good humoured this was game set and match to Boris and, as Toby Young observed on his blog, all that juicy material has now been neutralised for ever.

One of my trainees asked me last year whether I was going to look at Boris’ contribution to the Conservative Party conference. His comment was that it was the best thing – probably the only good thing – in the conference. At that time I was in the grip of serious Party Conference fatigue, and anyway I had but recently critiqued a Boris speech, so it was something that got put onto the back-burner. Perhaps now is the time to test the world’s Boris fatigue.

Let us remember that when this speech was delivered Boris was riding the crest of a huge wave of post-Olympic popularity. Put that in a mixing bowl with his Mayoral re-election victory and his accustomed relaxed buffoonery, add the requirement to address serious issues in a speech such as this and you actually have a very complex question as to how and where to pitch the tone. Try as I might, I can’t fault it. This man is a very smart operator. You have masses of humour, balanced skilfully against hard political-point-scoring statistics. And when I say ‘balanced’ I refer not only to weight but also to time: just as you start to tire of one type of material he whisks you away to fresh pastures.

And his use of humour is not just buffoonery. Did he deliberately create the very funny episode beginning around 22:40, or merely ride the wave very skilfully when it happened? I don’t know: I suspect the former, but that is not important. What is important is the quality of the interlude in what actually was a serious speech. He works a crowd as well as anyone I’ve seen.

Almost any further comment I make is superfluous: the speech speaks for itself. But I’d like to highlight two technical points. When before he was on this blog I castigated his bad microphone technique – he was popping all the time. I have also been known to declare that technicians are as much to blame for popping as the speaker. Congratulations to the sound engineers: they are using Boris-proof microphones which are too short for him to speak directly into, yet have the range clearly to pick him up. Nary a pop do we hear.

Boris is reading a script, and might be thought to be disproving everything I say about talking heads because he handles a script as well as anyone I’ve seen. (I still think he’d be even better without.) Nevertheless he is committing one technical error. For one ghastly moment I thought his script was printed on both sides of the paper, but having carefully checked his eye-line I am confident that it is not. Why then does he turn each page over? It would be much smoother, less fussy and more discreet merely to slide each completed sheet to the side (I cover this in my book).

And having triumphantly found one thing I can criticise, I shall now retire.