Our personal cultures improving?

Why our leaders don’t talk clearly, engage the people? President and the Prime Minister don’t inspire the people!

There was this delightful piece in the Economist, December 23rd, 2006 issue. It was on the art of conversation. As usual it was written with verve and wit.

What it says? The art of conversation is as old as great days when men openly talked and thought a great deal on great many public issues. Art of conversation means it is not about chit-chat about our private, personal affairs. Socrates walked the Athens streets, occupied the public spaces and what he spoke became the foundations of our civilizations! Rent them?

So came the 17th and 18th century French salons where beautiful women kept open houses where the great and the talented migrated, the great names became public and the Enlightenment was born! Who can be an educated person, even today, if you don’t talk of the great lady, the Mme de Steal who could hold her own with men like Voltaire, was a great talker and intellectual of the French ancient regime, called conversation” a means of reciprocally and rapidly giving one another pleasure of speaking just as quickly as one thinks”. She goes on and on in this vein’s too in England Where Samuel Johnson was undoubtedly toll this day seen as the acknowledged conversationalist and wit. That is why his reputation still endures.

The great coffee houses of Europe, from London to Paris to Vienna to Berlin are still famous, where the poets, musicians, the dilettante and others congregated and the great art of conversation flourished. Even today you can visit Paris and the favorite’s tourist spots in the great city are the ones regularly attended by Jean Paul Sartre and men and women of his stature. They are not just coffee houses but places of pilgrimages! Such is the image of the coffee houses where, we are told, were the first public spaces where freedom and other political issues got prominence. There are some delightful insights and anecdotes here.

What about the Americans? Yes, they have got their own version of what is conversation is all about.” How to win friends and influence people”, by Dale Carnegie could have been written only by an American. Carnegie’s book is still in print, after 70 years and has sold 15 million copies, one may not exactly know how many more are in the pirated editions! Carnegie’s” six ways to make people like you”, it seems, have been picked up by Indians these days. Our leaders, from the highest office like the President to Prime Minister, seem to be taking a leaf out of Carnegie. All PR, no light! We don’t get from our current crop of leaders any light or wisdom as we used to get from leaders likes Gandhi and Nehru. They were true educators, they were tireless in making to understand and work for the country.

Today, the President is talking only to school children or on such heavy topics like technology y topics that would transform India. But we have to get connected to the problems on the ground level. So, too our learned PM who in his wisdom miss less forthcoming as years and months roll by! We don’t get educated any more. That is the lesson that comes to mind. When we consider the national traits of the other nationaltiies, Indian character is one of avoiding open discussions! We dont have a coffee houses culture except in some remote way.

Alexis Tocqueville in his great classic,”Democracy in America” says that there is a strange unsociability and reserved and taciturnity of the Americans”. Charles Dickens, said Americans were taciturn, may be for trade reasons he says.

Now, there is a universal view, in India as well first radio and now TV has effectively killed the space and peace in homes. No useful, well-argued themes of conversation are possible with TV on all the time, even the men and women folk at home have become thoroughly corrupted by the TV serials which are gross vulgarisation of our day to lives and preoccupations.

Yes, the old high culture of art of conversation is dying. Yet, there are in civilized circles room for such pleasures. In the clubs perhaps, or in more and more leisurely spots there would be like-minded people to search for each other’s company and exchange views.

Booked at one point of view art of conversation is only an extension and expansion of our own education and good tastes and for sharing the shared experiences for the mental pleasures.


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