Tarek Fatah: as good as I’ve seen.

At the 3rd India Ideas Conclave, held in November 2016 in Goa, Tarek Fatah was called to speak.

I deliberately went looking for this. I had discovered Fatah’s existence as a result of a reTweet. What I found interested me, and I became one of his Twitter followers. Shortly afterwards I went seeking a speech and found two.

This was the most recent.

We immediately discover that he is surprised to be called, so he is mainly shooting from the hip. As an author and journalist he will have opinions a-plenty, but we have found often enough on this blog that those who live by the pen are by no means necessarily able to communicate well by the tongue. Nevertheless it takes only a few seconds to discover that here is a very skilled speaker.

Just listen to his tone colours. He plays his audience wonderfully.

He needs to because although he switches back and forth between languages, and has a habit of switching out of English for the punchline of each point made, I think it is clear that he is confronting group-think. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, he is giving this audience an industrial strength bollocking. And what impresses and amazes me is that they let him.

The audience listens in respectful silence and even applauds sometimes. This is a tribute to the persuasiveness of his speaking, but it is also a tribute to his audience. Although the bilingualism of this speech might be confusing me I think – and if I’m wrong no doubt someone will tell me – that he is scolding India for being too tolerant of Islamisation within their Hindu country.

Can you imagine the reception this would receive in the west (and it’s worth bearing in mind that Fatah lives and works in Canada)? For much less than this we see ferocious street riots, with shop windows broken and cars set alight. The cancer of political correctness has metastasised within western society to such an extent that we have ‘hate speech’ laws whose counter-productiveness is downright imbecilic. This sort of polite and respectful exchange of ideas and opinion is today just a memory in the west. I am reminded of that famous quotation from Mahatma Gandhi when asked what he thought of western civilisation.

I think it would be a good idea.

So do I, and we can apparently look to India to set us a noble example.

Even if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick completely, I am still in awe of this speech. We’ve had a Gandhi quote, let’s have a Fatah one –

There is no democracy without individual liberty (4:20)

Just after 13:30 he moves into his peroration. He  has given us loud power, quiet intensity, and wonderful flavour-enhancing pauses. Now he goes super-quiet for a while, drawing his audience to a focal point just a few inches from his nose. And then a huge auxesis arrives in the last couple of seconds. My word, but he’s good.

I mentioned that I found two speeches of his. This is where you will find the other. That was delivered in Canada in 2011, and he had come from cancer treatment in hospital to deliver it. Again it is brilliant, though his being unwell he doesn’t use quite the same breadth of palette. He is warning of Islamism as distinct from Islam. He is a Muslim.

I have become a fan of his, and delight in the discovery that we were born in the same city – though my being three years older we were born in different countries. I’ll leave you to work that out.

Danah Zohar leaves us wanting more

Danah Zohar spoke at the India Today Conclave 2008. If you have happened upon this post of mine concerning Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, and if you clicked the link to the second half of the speech in question, you might have seen that following him was the speech that we are going to examine today. Zohar begins at 15:50.

Danah Zohar is a very skilled speaker. She structures her material very clearly: she shoots principally from the hip and speaks with passion. She adeptly deploys a range of rhetorical figures of speech, in particular anaphora, thus giving her delivery an elegance that is almost poetic. By any standards this is good speaking.

Why then do shots of the audience show us too many people fidgeting, and obviously not absorbed? Could it be that the assertion she quotes at 16:05 – “in India we love controversy” is mere wishful thinking?

I don’t think so. This is not controversial. It could be: it should be, but it comes out as frankly rather banal. Having given you, in one paragraph, my rhetor’s summary of the quality of her actual speaking I shall now doff my rhetor hat and look at her message from the standpoint of a seeker after truth – me. Her message is muddled and unconvincing.

At 16:30 as part of her opening she says –

“I don’t accept the division between the spiritual and the physical, and much of my words will be about how to use the dynamic interaction between the spiritual and the physical …”

I wonder whether she – or anyone else – can explain how there can be a “dynamic interaction” between two things which, not being divided, are therefore one.

Watching it, I mentally brushed this question aside, as I wanted to learn what she had to say; and at first I was thirstily soaking up the theory. I felt that here was a great deal upon which to ponder. I still think there is a great deal upon which to ponder, but that somewhere along the line she has partially lost her own plot – or at least she had on this day in 2008. I found myself developing an impression that the purity of her message had become contaminated by her need to develop a brand for the corporate speaking market.

As she worked her way down twelve essential principles, and as muddles and self-contradictions continued to appear all over the place, I began eagerly to hope that before the end she would draw threads together to explain. But midway through principle 8 – independence of thought – the video ran out in the middle of a sentence.

There is a well-established showbiz principle that I never tire of quoting to my trainees: “Always leave them wanting more”. Nevertheless I’ll bet you anything you like tha

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and decorum mismatch

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has featured several times here, indeed my critique of the speech he delivered at the 2008 India Today Conclave has attracted more views than any other posting on this blog.

He delivered a talk at TED India 2009.

Ted talks, as uploaded online, have a distinct style; and generally it’s a good one. It’s not that they edit out introductions and preambles; it’s not that they are professional and slick enough to have a wandering camera to supplement the fixed front-of-house shots; it’s not just that they dress the stage appropriately to the talks; it’s not that in the video editing they tend to cut away completely to any slides being shown; etc.  It’s more a general feel that comes out in the pace and rhythm of the 18 minute talks. They come across as tight and business-like, which is ideal for nearly all speakers.

I spotted some months ago that Vasudev had delivered a TED talk, and I delayed watching it because I feared a clash of decorum, that TED’s house-style rhythm would be incompatible with Vasudev’s. The latter has a very particular decorum: he habitually begins with some chanting that sets a very slow, almost somnolent and very unTED-like, pace for what follows.

I was right to be anxious. Vasudev is an outstanding speaker, and with outstanding speakers I get picky as hell – that’s my job. Here the tuning of his engine seems constantly to be slightly wrong.

Did he omit his habitual chanting, or did he include it and they edited it out of the video? I shall stick my neck out and suggest the former. Chanting would have established a more Vasudev-style rhythm.

It is uncharacteristic for him to begin with such an aggressively overt gag. Furthermore, as every trainee of mine knows, it is a mistake – I haven’t the space here to explain why. The tittering while the gag is being recounted sounds nervous, and the laugh at the punchline is rather lacklustre. That is all entirely predictable.

The link from the gag to his theme is slightly clunky, as is the rest of the talk, and the decorum throughout is wrong for the content.

The gears are grinding: he is not himself. Watch that speech I mentioned in the first paragraph, or watch this one (wherein he begins at 2:50), and you witness an inner stillness that makes you hang on every word. Not only is he here galloping along too quickly, look how much he is fidgeting: his feet never stop moving. I have no problem with speakers who move, but Vasudev is not a fidget.

Do you hang on every word, or does your mind wander?  Mine wanders, and it is so frustrating! His subject and message fascinate me, but still I have to fight to stay with him. This is entirely because of decorum mismatch.

Some twenty years ago I recorded a radio interview with the late English comedy writer, Frank Muir. He recalled a book promotion speaking tour that took him to the USA. Before his first talk the American booking agent urged him to add some zip and pzazz to his delivery. Frank, realizing that zip and pzazz were not to be found in his armoury, delivered as he would have done to an English audience – and stormed them!

You have to be yourself. You are the best, most interesting, most engaging, most compelling you can be when you are being yourself. If your style is incompatible with that of the conference organizer, one of you has to give way. If you are as good as Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev it should definitely not be you.

Sachin Tendulkar – a natural and a delight

Thanks to ABP Majha there is on YouTube a speech by the legendary Indian cricketing batsman, Sachin Tendulkar.  Sadly I am unable to tell you when or where the speech was delivered, but it is clear that it is a speech of thanks upon his being honoured with the Order Of Australia. Whatever else anyone may say about the game of cricket, it surely is to its credit and that of its players that it fosters the sort of spirit that heaps honours upon distinguished opponents.

Our first glimpse of him in this video finds him adjusting the microphone. What a pity he did it wrong!  Had he pointed it higher, perhaps at his eyes, we would have been spared the occasional popping.

How dare someone who is gifted with such gigantic sporting talent also be so naturally good at speaking! This speech is a delight.

He is slightly nervous at the beginning; and he understandably chooses to bust his hump with an effusive thankfest. At 0:38 he looks skywards as if to seek strength and inspiration, and then launches into an eminently appropriate theme – his association with Australia.

Not only does he shoot the whole thing from the hip, but he has enough inner confidence to be prepared to be seen to search for words, give pauses their full natural life and address his audience with the sort of conversational sincerity that is today’s style. It’s a beautiful piece of speaking, tailored perfectly for an occasion such as this.

All the best structures are simple. This one could not be simpler – it’s essentially autobiographical.

He tells a story about how he was invited to travel to Australia to be a special guest at the 90th birthday party of Sir Donald Bradman, perhaps the only batsman in history to be Tendulkar’s superior. The story has a punch line that draws a huge laugh from his audience; but, and you’ll have to trust me on this, it is not speaker-proof. If he’d miss-timed that punch line he would have killed the laugh.

I find myself pondering on something. I am of the school of opinion that says that a large percentage of someone’s talent consists of a fluid exuded from the brow. Tendulkar was born with a phenomenal natural ability to hit a ball, but he was not born doing it. The man worked hard to maximise his talent. Likewise he has a natural ability as a speaker, but he was not born doing that either.

How much of what we see in this speech is the result of study and work? It’s very difficult to tell … except he made that elementary mistake at the beginning with the microphone. It may be that he could suffer from the widespread problem of the Natural. For an explanation of what I mean, see Peter Schiff here. When he retires from serious cricket, he will remain a considerable celebrity, and obviously invited often to speak. If he relies too heavily on his natural ability he could come unstuck sometime. Anyone who has done that will confirm it to be a very unpleasant experience. I hope he takes the trouble to consolidate the skill.

P.S. Among other things, Tendulkar is one of the relatively few batsmen to have scored a hundred centuries in First Class cricket. This posting is the hundredth on this blog.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar answers his own questions

The most popular article so far on this blog I posted on 5 April this year. It was a rave review of a speech by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. When therefore I happened upon talks made by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar I was eager to explore them, though nervous of doing a critique lest I fall into the trap of odious comparisons. There was something else that stayed my hand: though there are numerous examples on line of Sri Sri sitting and applying his spiritual wisdom to questions from the audience, and a few examples of his pacing a stage and liberating a stream of consciousness, it took a great deal of searching to find anything that could be described as a formal speech. Here he is, addressing an audience at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel on 19 November, 2009, and the speech is entitled Spirituality and Money.

I have been unable to find the name of the man who does the introduction; but he speaks for four minutes, taking care of Sri Sri’s ethos. Sri Sri therefore doesn’t have to worry himself with that, but he does work on decorum. The introducer has a firm, decisive manner of delivery and Sri Sri immediately takes away the stridency and pace, in order that a quieter, calmer, almost somnolent atmosphere might prevail. Within a short while you could hear a pin drop.

I mentioned earlier the prevalence of his Q&A sessions to be found on line, and it quickly becomes evident that that is his favoured form of communication with audiences. He is not altogether happy in this speech environment. He meanders around with no real structure, or even message except the Peace and Brotherhood stuff that you might expect. He congratulates Israel on the success of its struggle for survival in the face of constant terrorism, indicating that India and Israel suffer more terrorism than all other countries.  He talks about gaining inner peace through good breathing habits.

Then, apparently becoming suddenly mindful of the title of his talk – Spirituality and Money – he starts talking about the economic crash which, at the time, was a very recent memory. He claims that it took less than ten months for capitalism to collapse. I can hear in my mind those who would stoutly maintain that it wasn’t capitalism that collapsed but corporatism.

For more than ten minutes he wanders in this vein; and then suddenly, as if from a hat, he produces at 14:45 a neat little tricolon. We need, he says, to …

  • secularise the religion
  • socialise the business
  • spiritualise the politics.

Not only I, but the audience are pleasantly startled at this sudden appearance of an emerging structure. They show it with a ripple of applause. For two and three quarter minutes he delivers a coherent tripartite message, fleshing out that tricolon. It’s the strongest part of the speech and concludes it.  At 17:30 he invites questions, and thereafter for 8 minutes he is in his element.

So if I go where angels fear to tread, odiously comparing him with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the latter unquestionably delivers a better speech. In terms of the relative wisdoms of their respective spiritual messages, delivered in whatever genre suits them, that is a completely different matter and light years beyond my competence.

Javed Akhtar introduces a debate.

In early April I critiqued a speech by the brilliant Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, made at the 2008 India Today Conclave.  He was preceded by Javed Akhtar whose speech we shall examine today.

Contrary to the still picture you see there, this is the right video. Javed Akhtar, as an award-winning scriptwriter and lyricist is not exactly obscure and he has spoken at this conclave in previous years, but on this occasion he is the chairman for a debate between two other speakers – and the first of them is pictured above. What Akhtar has to do is set the scene, and that is not an obvious or simple task.

Is he just a glorified warm-up man? He could be. Is he just an animated menu, a face and voice to tell you what to expect? He could be. This is one of those functions that simply becomes what you decide to make it. Like so much else that happens on a speaking platform it is not a case of what is right or wrong but what can be made to work. Whatever else he does, he is responsible for establishing the decorum

He starts at 1:00 and finishes at 10:15. He begins with his own ethos. Much of this involves references to people and matters that presumably resonate with the audience but to which we are not privy; so having identified it as ethos I shall move on.

The debate centres around the question, “Is spirituality relevant to leadership?” From 3:40 Akhtar addresses the question without trying to answer it because that is the job of the subsequent speakers. Shooting from the hip he flags up questions as to what leadership and spirituality are. I can’t fault that.

Nor can I fault the way he delivers it. He speaks slowly and has the confidence to deal in long pregnant pauses which are highly effective. He also demonstrates how you can convey intensity without volume – he has moments of pouring high-octane energy through very quiet passages. It’s a very effective technique.

When listing the supposed qualities of leadership and spirituality he uses both asyndeton and polysyndeton. He also drops a small anaphora into the mix at one point. I repeat that this is all unscripted, so it becomes clear that here we are watching a very skilled, literate and articulate speaker.

And as I declared at the beginning this function of introducing a debate becomes what you make it. The verdict on his performance therefore hangs on the question of whether this short speech works. I think it certainly does, and it also lays down a very good decorum. Job done.

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.