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The less we say the better

  • Published at 05:41 pm October 11th, 2018
Persuasive speaking is a way of life
Persuasive speaking is a way of life BIGSTOCK

Silence is golden in these challenging times

In a sprawling field full of hope for the future, the carpet was laid and the chairs were set. 

The shamiana concealed the sky, and apparently shielded the newest batch of leaders from the scorching sun. On such a grand stage and such a momentous occasion, every word counts, and every sentence is to be nothing short of memorable. 

The art of rhetoric is as ancient as democracy itself, probably older. Like most other important Greek concepts, Aristotle had a definition for it, ensuring its future possibility of becoming something of an art, as well as something of a serious subject of study. 

In our part of the world, persuasive speaking has always been a way of life. A passionate politician ascends the stage, raises his arms and bellows: “Bhaishob!” signifying the continuation of an electrifying tradition of rhetoric in politics. 

Trumping the iconic Gettysburg Address or “I have a dream!” the definitive speech of the world is the March 7 address. Bangabandhu’s speech was unrehearsed, spontaneous, and impact-making; standing the test of time, and proving to us how words can move mountains. 

Today, at a time of relative peace and order, great speeches are made on great stages. A respected professor fondly remembers his days at Chittagong University, and how Pranab Mukherjee, the then president of India, had graced the occasion. 

Another example of presidential excellence from our esteemed neighbours is APJ Abdul Kalam. His speeches never ceased to inspire, especially the ones at prestigious educational institutions. Obama may not be your favourite US president, yet his gift of gab has earned him a sense of general respect, something our beloved Agent Orange of the Air Force One can never dream of. A man of letters commands respect, and a man of eloquent words is forever remembered. 

While studying for the GRE, I came upon the etymology of “laconic.” Laconia of ancient Greece, a region that included Sparta, was famous for the deadly impact of just a few words. Legend has it, that Philip II of Macedon, after taking over southern Greece, turned his attention to Sparta. To the Spartan ephors, he sent a menacing threat: “If I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” 

The reply was simply: “If.” 

As a nation, we end up beating about the bush while articulating what we really want to say. A current favourite word of mine is “otikothon,” or simply talking too much, saying things that are better left unsaid. When the average Bangladeshi tries to help someone out with directions, he or she begins a complex if/else loop right there on the street. 

Ask anyone about international politics, celebrity gossip, or cricket chronicles -- everyone has a rather strong, lengthy opinion on the subject, hence our ever-populated tea stalls. We, however, are a rather smart bunch. 

We were quick to pick up that silence is golden in these challenging times. To further aid us in our endeavours to keep mum, there have been measures to make us follow a laconic code. Like a fist clapped tightly against the mouth, like a cork that keeps the fizzy drink from erupting, the sound of silence is saying the unsaid. 

I have another favourite, a word I often use instead of the more widely used English substitute – “shomaborton.” 

A group of people I truly admire, and believe have won the battle against this monster, are stand-up comedians.

My mother bursts out laughing when Mirakkel is on air. I find myself laughing along with Trevor Noah’s rhythmic South African humour. 

A performed act of humour is, however, something of a light-hearted affair. The little sexual innuendos are often forgiven by the fatal feminists, including me, as humour for the average Bangladeshi which has manifested itself as a coping mechanism. 

The sorry state of our politics beggars description, no doubt. Yet, I feel that even the poor man’s wife deserves the right to her privacy, and does not want to become a sexual innuendo. There is no one solution to the blatant misogyny in comedy, yet there is the unanimous agreement that body talk is inappropriate at certain places. 

Whether the shamiana-ceremony gave us words to live by is debatable, yet we can all agree that our mouths are better kept shut. A few days ago, Khabib had to listen to racial, Islamophobic slurs from his Irish opponent at the UFC arena. 

McGregor’s devotees had become fiercely defensive of anyone who dared to even point out what happened, let alone criticize their ravaging Leprechaun.

I made the mistake of engaging with such a supplicant on the comments section. Needless to say, I was shown my place in the universe. 

In these Orwellian times, the best we can do is to transform ourselves into a pair of eyes. 

Qazi Mustabeen Noor is a freelance contributor.