UNDERSTANDING EXCELLENCE – PART V (ELOCUTION AND VISION)

I was a ninth standard student that time. It was my first year in a Thane school, the city where we had moved in recently. I was picked up soon as a member of our team that was going to represent our school in a prestigious debating competition at Pune. We had four months of presentations ahead of us. Before that, for any such competition I had prepared my speech in a week’s time. Hence, four months looked a very long time. My friend and I were introduced to a teacher who had also joined the school recently. His name was Murlidhar Gode. On the top of all his handwritten letters, he used to write “स्वयमेव मृगेन्द्रता”, part of a Sanskrit verse that focuses on finding the real strength within self.

‘Gode Sir’ as we started calling him was quite sweet to talk to, as the literal translation of his surname meant. He unfolded his plan before us. There were five topics for the debating competition and we had to prepare for one of them. But that was only the first round of the competition. In another round participants would get a topic at the venue, ten minutes in advance and then they would have to give a five minutes speech on that topic. That was tough. But sir had a plan. He started giving us a topic every day. He would start the timer. After ten minutes, we had to deliver the speech. After our performance, he used to discuss the content and style with us. The same evening, we had to write down the text of the speech, which was then read by him. Again then he commented on it. Every week we started preparing four topics. In two months, both of us had prepared more than thirty speeches. We discovered a vital aspect of ourselves; we could really do it.

Gode sir accelerated the speed. We were preparing a topic every day. He was consciously increasing the complexity of topics. In our first week, we had topics such as a ‘picnic to the seashore’ or ‘visit to the market’. Slowly we ‘graduated’ to, ‘The meaning of independence’ or ‘messages from the life of Vivekanand’ or ‘merits and demerits of democracy’. And by Jove, I was enjoying the process!

Now phase II started as per sir’s plan. Whenever in the school, if any class had a free period, sir, would take us there, give a topic, then within minutes in front of the class, and F..I..R..E!  We used to deliver the speech. Generally the students were appreciative, but sir was a difficult person to please. He used to discuss threadbare our performances with a reassuring smile on his face. Then came the next phase. Sir started getting together, three or four classes at, a time. We had to first deliver our prepared speech for debate and then the ‘Instant topic’.

In four months, he made us prepare NINTY such topics. Looking back, I am indebted to him for helping me develop a ‘Thinking pattern’ of preparing contents and their presentation. Now no topics seemed impossible. To this date, this pattern helps me to organize my thoughts. Many people tell me today that my communication style is friendly, spontaneous and filled with a persuasive energy. The credit for all such compliments rests squarely on Gode-sir only.

Once after a addressed all divisions of the Tenth class during this period, Gode-sir took me aside, “While relating to the audience you need to maintain constant eye contact with ‘a’ section of the audience all the time… you need to shift your eyes in a rhythmic manner… sometimes circular, sometimes in straight lines… The lines could be vertical, horizontal … make it wavelike sometimes… But your eyes must meet their eyes all the time”

“Sir… Why”?…

“Because then, many… almost all members of audience feel, you are directly talking to them. It increases their concentration and attentiveness…” Gode sir continued.

“But doing THIS and talking at the same time?…” my question.

“Yes… Consider your eyes as an extension of your breathing. You breathe ALL the time, isn’t it” Sir said with his characteristic sweet smile.

I started applying the ‘technique’ and started getting results. All the divisions of ninth class that day were sitting in two columns. On my left were boys and on my right were girls. Now ‘Ninth’ was my class. Therefore, the girls were ‘special’ for me, as they are for any teenager. All the same, in our times, one rarely looked at girls ‘officially’. So, all throughout my speech I used sir’s technique on my left, not looking (or not daring to look) at the right side.

After I ended my speech, all my classmates clapped with great enthusiasm. Even the girls clapped. Even the ones that mattered for me clapped. Even THAT girl clapped. So I was overjoyed.

“During the delivery of your speech, why did you block half the audience?” sir asked (with that same smile).

Oh God… He had noticed even that; I thought. If he notices my ‘not looking’ at girls, he must be noticing my ‘looking’ as well. That was more frightening.

Fortunately, sir was on a different tangent that day. “Look boy… Audience is one … It has many faces… It has one face… And it has no face. You have to look at all three levels”.  I could not understand; especially how to look at no face.

“When you are looking at the audience, the way I have told you… you are looking at many faces. Then you focus on their eyes… As you go on, their eyes should give you similar emotions… and at that point, it becomes one face. Go on and on. At one Point, you will perceive no face but just a collective existence, right there in front of you. You will discover it not when you will speak but when you will pause…” Sir was explaining and a powerful insight was unfolding within my mind. That was the first time in my life, when a Guru, taught ‘meaning of meditation’ to his disciple.                                                                          …Thank you Gode Sir for providing me Vision.

Dr. Anand Nadkarni.

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