Accent does not matter- clarity does!

Source: Tweets -prema lakshminarayan@GEEMS71

This anecdote illustrates how content and clarity scored over panache and surface polish. An unimpressive looking, dhoti clad and short-sighted old man with a pronounced Tamil-influenced English accent, addressed a crowd of impatient and skeptical young men in London nearly sixty years ago. He won their hearts and admiration by sheer clarity and content of his speech. I can vouch for it because I(the author) was in the audience! Three intellectuals from India, Benegal Shiva Rao, RR Diwakar and Rajaji

traveled to US to meet President Kennedy to urge him to adopt unilateral nuclear disarmament in 1962. They stopped over in London to meet Bertrand Russell, the apostle of the policy. They addressed Indian students at Indian YMCA in London on a Sunday.1942 The naval officers under training at Royal Naval College, Greenwich, were advised by the Indian Naval Advisor at London to attend the lecture. I would have gone anyway as I wanted to hear Rajaji speak. Suited and booted Shiva Rao and Diwakar spoke impressively of their mission1839 in clipped Oxbridge accents. They were followed by a nondescript looking old man Rajaji clad in a Dhoti Kurta and wearing sandals. The audience mostly from north India, thought they were in for a boring time. Rajaji had a pronounced South Indian accent which did not add to his appeal. He started by saying “I am an old man nearing the end of his life. You are young people doing advanced studies in England. I was wondering what advice I could give you, when I found it plastered in billboards on London Roads. “Take Courage!”

“Take Courage!” (These were advertisements for beer from the well known brewery Courage and Barclays!)” The audience sat up. He followed ” I mean, take courage, not of the liquid variety but that which comes from within. Be bold in facing life’s challenges.”

By then, he had the audience eating out of his hands. He spoke for forty minutes on nuclear disarmament and many other subjects. He then urged the students to return to India on completion of their studies. He was brilliant. We forgot Diwakar and Shiva Rao totally.

He ended with the advice ” Never confuse comfort with happiness. Comfort comes from conveniences outside and would be available sooner or later in India also. It is external to your being. Happiness comes from your inner core and does not depend on material things around.

You may have more comfort here but you will find happiness only in India. Come back and serve your motherland and live with your kith and kin.” Believe it or not, with the permission of the audience he spoke in Tamil for five minutes and then reverted to English.

When he finished there was a standing ovation. Every one of us was moved. Substance always triumphs over form! (P.S.- The delegation met up with the US President John F. Kennedy, who gave them 25 minutes but was so charmed by Rajaji that in the end they chatted for over an hour Later, Kennedy told an aide that “seldom have I heard a case presented with such precision, clarity and elegance of language”.

The diplomat, B.K. Nehru, who was present, recalled how “the secretaries who came in with slips of paper reminding the president of his appointments were shooed away”. Kennedy, it appears, was “fascinated” by Rajaji.


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