|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 7, Issue 07, Tuesday, February 14, 2012|
Accelerated speak and a letter from Jaipur
By Neeman Sobhan
Quite a few of my North Indian friends have a rapid-fire way of talking, shooting from the hip in both English and Hindi, and cramming more words into a sentence than there are passengers inside a Dhaka-Gazipur bus.
I have also seen this among bright young things on Indian TV presenting say, Bollywood gossip, and although I fail to absorb anything from their quicksilver barrage of Hinglish, I am endlessly entertained and impressed by these youngsters with the gift of the 'chutneyfied' bilingual gab.
I speak four languages, all of them hesitantly, or in what I think to be a normal and thoughtful pace appropriate to someone whose calling is writing and not speaking. As a writer, I feel that thinking is a necessary prelude to speaking; and speaking or thinking aloud is neither a sufficient nor necessary prelude to writing; whereas, writing is about the silent and time consuming business of re-writing your spoken and unspoken thoughts, while putting 'the best words in the best order.'
Of course, Coleridge said that about poetry, but to me, all writing is a poetic exercise. So, I feel fluency in a language for a writer need not be about its oral expression but about writing it; and, hopefully, writing it well.
Of course, all of the above could well be self-delusional nonsense on my part, because let's face it: writer or non-writer, you either have the knack for verbalising aloud your thoughts instantly, fluidly, engagingly, articulately, convincingly, concisely and rapidly, or you don't. And I probably don't have the gift. After all, I normally dread the question, 'So tell me all about it', whatever that 'it' may be, yet I could write reams about the same thing.
An Indian, Delhi-based friend of mine has the gift: an inimitable, accelerated way of talking and summarising things. She can deftly compress details of her day with a footnote on the state of the world, a succinct summary of the plot of a book or film, a side foray into a new diet, an update on the second marriage of a mutual friend's son, and the menu of her last lunch party involving an amazing no-cheese recipe for a cheese soufflé. And wait! All this is stitched seamlessly into the dizzily unravelling fabric of her account of her daughter's holiday in Goa; her grandchildren's birthday party, her own attendance of a celebrity event, a book launch, a boutique inaugural; two dozen weddings and a funeral, and all of this within the first thirty four point six seconds of her conversation.
Then, when she suddenly turns to me with: 'And what have you been up to?' I shake myself from a momentary coma to mumble: 'Oh! This and that.' She persists: 'Like what?' and my whole week spins before me with the myriad things I have done, the people I have met, the books I have read, the films I have seen, the events I have attended -- all becoming a massive blur escaping the nutshell I am hastily trying to stuff them into. I cannot do it.
I just cannot, on demand, simultaneously sort, order, and speak about my day or my life with the facility that verbally gifted people can. I have to first write about an incident or an emotion for it to become real enough for me to talk about it. So, tucking away the strands of events and non-events strewing the face of my day, my week, and my current state of mind, and pinning them neatly into my mental notebook for later use, I tell my friend: 'Well, you just have to read my column.'
However, today, I would like to salute this friend's oral summing-up skills and share with my readers what she told me, in the nutshell of the first minute and twenty three point two seconds of her conversation, about her recent trip to JLF, that's Jaipur Literary Festival for us -- the feast of literature that I wish I could have attended, choosing from the mouth-watering menu of Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Jamaica Kincaid, Ben Okri, Mohammad Hanif and others talking about their craft.
But as consolation prize, I had my friend rattle on about it. I think if she were writing a letter, this is how it would appear, word for remembered word of her conversation:
''Just back from Jaipur Lit. Fest. Great on the whole. Negative side: Diggi Palace too crowded -- just too many attending, also too much security -- was no need, thank God Salman Rushdie did not come. In five days attended 8 sessions -- Oprah was Fab! She reached out to all, had a standing ovation -- besides her Glitterati sessions, she stayed with widows, went to slums & tried to understand India with its complexities & contradictions & said she was fascinated & enlightened & has promised to come back. We attended David Hare and Tom Stoppard, the brilliant playwrights- their conversation & language, Wow! Oh! Remember Amy Chua of Tiger Mom? She spoke about her book, and just imagine her daughter came on stage at the end of the session to tell us how she has come out great & admires her mum! What else? Oh! Yes, we attended Poor Economics: how our progress has led us to new sets of problems for today- young people struggling for jobs, no salary increases and older generation worried about their money investments going up & down with fluctuating markets! Deepak Chopra spoke on stress and was full of good stuff but some went over my head. You have read him, na? He has written 65 Books (one I lent you 'Ageless body Timeless mind') & lives in the U.S & was actually the one who brought Oprah to JLF as they are good friends. Oh! Shashi Tharoor launched Anupam Kher the actor's book with him there- he was my favourite as he talked of his failures in school & of just scraping through college & how today Oxford, Kellogs etc. call him to talk on The Power Of Failure. Get his Book!
Now tell me quickly what have YOU been up to?''
Huh? Who me? Oh! This and that…actually…ummm…why don't you just read my next column?
Neeman Sobhan is a writer and journalist, living in Italy and teaching at the University of Rome. She also writes the fortnightly 'A Roman Column' that appears in the Star Weekend Magazine on Fridays.
L is for Labh
Happy Valentine's baby!
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