Both of them in the picture above may not have anything to do with public speaking, but in India we celebrate ‘Guru Poornima’ today by expressing our gratitude to our teachers in various avatars, be it academic, professional, social, familial or religious. I thought it would be apt to pay tribute to my gurus of public speaking today.
1975. We, a bunch of eager-beaver freshies or first year students of engineering course at MIT Manipal had joined the Manipal Junior Jaycees promoted by the parent Manipal Jaycees as it focused on individual development as its core objective.
We were thrilled when they announced an EFFECTIVE PUBLIC SPEAKING (EPS) course to be conducted by senior Jaycees who were also eloquent speakers. It was spread over seven weeks with a speech to be delivered every week based on a demo speech and guidelines set out by the Faculty. While there are many names to be mentioned, this post is about three gems from whom I picked up various aspects of public speaking without realising that I would be making a living out of speaking many years later.
Dr N Subramanyam ( Dr NS), Head of Deptt of Chemical Engineering, MIT, Manipal. He was one of the youngest to graduate out of the famed IISc ( Indian Institue of Science), Bangalore with a PhD and the youngest HOD in our institute.
Dr NS abhorred the flowery way of speech. He advised us to eschew jargon wherever possible. But I didn’t listen to him because I found the audience admired speakers who used high sounding words, unnecessary jargon almost to the point of being pompous. I thought their logic was if the speaker uses words or phrases I don’t know, he/she must be better than me and worthy of adoration!
I was soon proved wrong at a debate organised by the Jaycees in Valley View, the only star hotel in Manipal those days which deserves an entire blog post. The topic was to debate on the effects of the JP movement. JP- Jayaprakash Narain, a social reformer who was creating an impact in the national political scene.
Speaking for the topic, I had filled my speech with the choicest words in the dictionary and managed to get a thunderous applause from the audience. As I got off the podium, my classmate from Bihar, Dhirendra Kumar Singh gave me my first valuable feedback in Hindi, ‘kya baat kiya boss, lekin ek baat bhi samjha nahin.’ Loosely translated, “what a great speech boss, although I didn’t understand a word of it”. While he was complimenting me, I took it as a tight slap and sheepishly went to Dr NS and narrated by experience. Hi just smiled and said, “cut the crap and get to the point”. This is a lesson that has been deeply embedded within since then. Thank you, Dr N Subramanyam Sir for this invaluable tip. Many years later I met up with him at Vadodara ( Baroda) where he is a distinguished Faculty at MS University. I’ve misplaced the pics I took and the only one I have is what you see in the black and white image posted here.
Mr K M Karanth, Public Relations Officer, Syndicate Bank HQ, Manipal. He was the editor of the bank’s in-house journal, GIANT. He always signed as Ko Ma Karanth.
A jolly good fellow is how I would describe him because he treated us as friends than students. Mr Karanth was a master storyteller with a keen sense of humor. Passionate about Kannada literature, he introduced us to Dr Kota Shivarama Karanth, a literary giant, Jnanapith award winner, novelist, playwright and an ecologist. I’d been to Saligrama where he’d been spending the last years of his life, but couldn’t meet him.
Mr K M Karanth also introduced us to good cinema like Chomana Dudi, a national award winning Kannada movie based on a story by Dr Shivarama Karanth.
He urged us to build a storyline in our speeches, encouraged and appreciated the use of humor. I learned my ‘connecting’ skills because of his lively inputs. There was never a dull moment with him around. I used to write a column for the local paper, Manipal Record titled, ‘UNDER THE SUN.’ He was an avid reader of all my writings and would call me to his cabin to review each article and provide constructive tips. He introduced me to his colleagues in the PR dept, Mr Jameel Ahmad Ashar and Mr Alfred Sams, both interested in poetry and journalism. Mr Karanth was taken away too early.
But his legacy lives on. In Kundapur, the Ko Ma Karanth Prashashthi award instituted by Kundaprabha magazine is annually given to outstanding work in the field of literature .
I got this picture from his daughter Maitreyi Karanth based out of Hong Kong. I was extremely happy to know she’s taken up stand up comedy as a hobby. Here’s a pic of her with Mrs K M Karanth who’s served us infinite cups of coffee and tea when we used to gather in his quarters behind Dr TMA Pai’s house to listen to his tales.
This post will not have meaning if I don’t mention Mr Garnet A Rego, Jt Controller of Personnel, Syndicate Bank. Here is a meaning of Garnet sourced from the net, “A spiritual stone of higher thinking and self-empowerment, it is also a stone of strength and safety. … It is a stone of prosperity and abundance, encouraging gratitude and service to others.”
A high ranking bank official, yet his cabin was always open to us for mentoring and guidance. His advice was to ‘speak from the heart in a conversational tone’, something I’ve tried my best to practise in my career. He detested unnecessary drama and cautioned us against turning public speaking into a performance art. A well read man, he combined the fact orientation of Dr NS and the anecdotal element of Mr K M Karanth to give an outstanding speech each time. A touch of class would be a massive understatement to describe him. But his managerial facade would give way once he’d start chatting up with us and regale us with a lot of interesting trivia about his college days. An officer of unimpeachable integrity and a gentleman to the core.
Much more than public speaking, we learned humility, grace and dignity from him. Just this incident will reveal the mettle he’s made of. He was about to leave for Kolkata to take over as GM. And Syndicate Bank higher-ups had organised a farewell dinner which was attended by the bigwigs of Manipal society. We didn’t attend the dinner but were at the Valley View front desk to settle our bills for the club. And soon he trooped in with his wife and three children, all boys, as you see in the accompanying picture.
And we students or Junior Jaycees invited him later for a small get together at Valley View. It was an informal dinner meet as we were students pooling our money to host the dinner for our revered mentor. We couldn’t believe when he turned up with his family EXACTLY as he’d done for the Syndicate Bank party. We were astonished and told him he needn’t have taken the trouble to be ‘suited and booted’. With a glint of anger in his eyes, he rebuked us, “What do you mean? You showed respect by inviting me for dinner. Shouldn’t I extend the same RESPECT and COURTESY to my hosts? What difference should it make to me whether you are students or managers?” THAT, my dear friends, was his CLASS. I wonder, do they make such models any more?
I got the lovely picture of his family from his son Jeevan Rego, a banker based in Denmark. He tells me Mr Rego is 84 now and lives with his wife, Dr Milicent Rego in Manipal. MITians and Junior Jaycees of the 70s, do message me if you need his coordinates.
The other names that I remember with gratitude are Mr U L Rao, Director of Staff Training College, Syndicate Bank, Mr Subhash Chandra of Syndicate Bank, the late Dr Sampath Kumar from the Chemical Engg Dept, MIT, Mr VIjayanath Bhat or VN Bhat from IDBI, Prof I Narayana, Past President of Manipal Jaycees and a host of others who made all this possible.
THANK YOU! 🙏🙏🙏