A new book, The Great Speeches of Modern India, catalogs religious, economic and political speeches of the 19th and 20th Century. The author, Rudrangshu Mukherjee, presents a view of modern Indian history through the speeches of her leaders.
I have not been able to locate a convenient source for the book, but this review contains some fascinating commentary. He contrasts speeches by world leaders such as Churchill, Gandhi and Nehru, who wrote their own content, with today’s reliance on speech writers ‘ghosting’ the speech which began with JFK and Ted Sorensen. Modern politicians, he claims “don’t feel confident enough to handle the language in the succinct way a speech-writer can.”
Mukherjee observes the distinction between great speakers and great speeches:
Great speakers do not always make great speeches. The yardstick for judging the latter is whether the words retain their power with the passing of time. Nehru was not a great orator in the traditional sense of the term, his voice was not loud and words did not come in a torrent as they do with great orators, he did not pause for effect but he made many memorable speeches and coined phrases that have become part of the nation’s vocabulary.
Finally, he refers to the stunning address given by Vivekananda at the Chicago World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. The 7,000 delegates went into rapture and responded with a standing ovation that lasted for more than three minutes:
Sisters and Brothers of America,
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. l thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.
My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.
Since India is one of the great sources of speeches given in the English language, this book, when it more widely available, will be a valuable addition to any speakers’ library.