New Delhi, Oct. 2, 2010: Speaking at an extremely slow pace is of late being used increasingly as a means to either irritate, or totally confuse the listener, but experts warn that this trend could lead to disastrous consequences.
Says Dr. Smith of the British Institute of Speech Sciences: “Speaking extremely slowly, stressing and chewing on each word, puts excessive strain on the facial muscles, especially those in the mouth and upper face. Near term consequences could be loss of motor control in the lower jaw and throat, leading to the tongue dangling uncontrollably out of the mouth, while in the long term it could lead to complete loss of the ability to close one’s eyelids. We call such a condition ‘Owl’s syndrome’. In some other cases the lips tend to become extended and flaccid, in which case we call it ‘Pig’s syndrome’.”
This reporter decided to contact two prominent practitioners of this technique – Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister of Pakistan, and Manish Tiwari, spokesperson of the Congress Party in India – to elicit their views on the supposed health hazard.
Qureshi was quick to dismiss the syndrome theory. “I have been speaking this way ever since I began speaking. Isn’t my tongue in place? These westerners have a penchant for turning everything into a syndrome. Insha Allah nothing will happen to my face,” he said. However, a childhood friend of Qureshi, whom this reporter contacted over phone, revealed that as kids they would never allow Qureshi to count out when starting a game. The game would never start otherwise!
Tiwari’s response was too slow for this reporter to record anything meaningful.
Elsewhere, the origin of this practice is being hotly debated. The BJP claims the credit should go to the former Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who has been famous for putting reporters to sleep. Qureshi was quick to deny this as well. “Vajpayee used to pause after every word because he didn’t know what to say next. I do it on purpose. I love to keep those Indian buggers waiting for an hour to hear something they have already heard a hundred times before,” he said.
The community of journalists, however, doesn’t seem to be amused by this practice. Ajay Khakkar of the Press Trust of India says he has been receiving several complaints of late. One reporter at the recent India – Pakistan joint press conference reportedly broke the nib of his pen while stressing on one single word, in consonance with what Qureshi was doing. Another reporter, a regular at Qureshi’s press conferences, reportedly has lost the ability to comprehend speech spoken at normal pace.
Finally this reporter contacted Dr. Lal at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, who usually has a humourous take on such issues. “It’s just constipation!” says Dr. Lal. “An hour long morning ritual probably rubs off on the entire day, and people are making a big deal out of it!”
Neither Mr. Qureshi, nor Mr. Tiwari was willing to respond when confronted with this new theory.