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“Aisi baani boliye, man ka aapa khoye

Auran ko sheetal kare, aap hu sheetal hoye” — Kabir Doha

(Rough transl: Speak words that touch the chords of the heart. Words that reach out to calm the hearts of others while calming your own soul) 

Those of us who were born in the early 80s or prior to that must have known the era of debates and the existence of debating clubs, coffee houses, and public lecture halls. This was the era before we went thoroughly virtual living nosier lives on social networking sites than in real-time.  Debating clubs were a rage in universities. A university gained fame by its debating champs — some of whom went ahead to define the political and legal landscape of the country. In fact, the university systems and their strengths were sometimes defined by the debating groups existing within their premises.  Look at the history of Patna University, Allahabad University, Benaras Hindu University, Delhi University, etc. and you will understand what am I trying to indicate. Oxford University still hosts one of the best annual debates in its campus as per the traditional debating club style.

How far do these clubs go back in time? In my assessment to the times when Nalanda and Takshasila were the ruling universities. This assessment comes from a cursory analysis of Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s popular series Chanakya which was telecasted back in early 90s. There is an episode when Vishnugupt Chanakya speaks at Kaikayaraj about the ideal teachers and their role in nation building. That speech qualifies as an excellent example of flash-extempore.

There is another episode where Chanakya debates with the 16 regional Janapada kings , including the king of Magadha; Dhanand for a united action against Alexander. In my opinion, those debates confirm to the high standards of debating ethics that scholarship can ever produce.

The best forms of debate have been a part of university systems and consequently parliamentary systems. Some of the State Governments have former debating champions of the state universities as their helmsmen/women. There are a few points which I remember from my grandfather and my school teacher’s tips on how to be good debator. Actually, these ‘hows’ are very subjective and defined by individual attitudes and disposition. I do not exactly remember, who said which point to me but I am re-framing those tips in my own words and in ways that I can think of. These tips I now share as a mixed bag with you all. They had come to me when I was only 9-10 years old:

1. Respect your opponents and their thoughts and points.

2. Make a blue-print of your battle strategy before you actually fight it.

3. Listen, and listen carefully if you want to win —  you get your trump card from your opponent.

4. Speak with substance not just with passion.

5. Never lose your grounds or change your ideologies just because you are losing the championship.

6. Speak from your soul not from your mind — mind is only an equipment of the soul. People usually see through your intentions.

7. Be silent for 15-30 secs before you start speaking — that gives you strength to handle your thoughts.

8. Be coherent rather than intellectual.

9. Think of the usefulness of your arguments — do not argue just for the sake of an argument.

10. Be courteous, dignified, and make a statement with your actions not just with verbose.

I am aware that English teachers will pick these points up from Iris and freely talk to their students as if these points are their original statements.  Well, that is the reason why I am sharing these trade-secrets on Iris.

There are some very interesting movie clips that I recollect where musical debates between the boy and girl lead to a new love story. Remember Sachin and Ranjeeta’s famous debate song based on Kabir’s Dohas in Ankhiyon ke Jharokhon Se? Whenever I listen to that song it gives me a high — education and pedagogy seemed to be determined by the quest for knowledge rather than the quest for hefty pay-packets:

Traveling across the continent, British debates are known for their humour, wit and sharp repartee. Citing an instance, there is a joke of a repartee between the famous parliamentarians William Gladstone and Disraeli during one of the British parliament debates.  Attacking Disraeli, Gladstone had remarked “the honorable gentleman will either end on the gallows or die of some loathsome disease”. Disraeli replied immediately during his turn in the debate, “That depends on whether I embrace the honorable gentleman’s principles or his mistresses” .

On the whole debates, debating clubs, are the mark of a country’s and an academia’s intellectual capital. In India somehow traditional university systems have lost their debating sheen and IITs do not seem to have encouraged their debating champs as much as they should have. As a PG student, I used to enjoy watching the annual debating championships in the university. Never dared to participate at the PG level because I knew the limitations of my verbal capacities. There are no inter-IIT debating championships and neither are intra-IIT debating groups that remarkable in establishing their presence.  I envision that someday inter-university National debating championships would be held so that we witness history being rewritten.

Perhaps, this is an utopia…but I am not pessimistic about the reality of this utopia.  On that note let me make a cuppa hot-ginger tea….For my readers who are dissapointed about my not writing on love stories — will be back soon with a love story as my 100th article.

Goodnight! Take care of yourselves and do debate with your ideas and ideologies 🙂 ….