Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and Javed Akhtar debate

In early April 2013 I posted on this blog a critique of a speech by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. He delivered it at an India Today Conclave. In June I posted a critique of the speech that was made in introduction by Javed Akhtar. Akhtar’s brief was dispassionately to set the scene for Vasudev’s speech, and he did so; but it felt to me at the time as if he was suppressing strong views that he would have liked to liberate.

So I was excited to find that Tehelka had brought the two of them together in conversation with Shoma Chaudhury at one of their Think sessions in 2012.

As Chaudhury introduces the session you hear the tribal applause and cheers as each name is mentioned. Is this really going to be a verbal gladiatorial contest? If so it will be a treat.

I quickly doff my rhetor hat and just enjoy.  I invite you to do the same.

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.