During activity week, a small cohort of boys comprising Devang Laddha, Kanishkh Kanodia, Gunvir Paintal, Aryan Bhattacharjee, Suyash Chandak and myself, escorted by PKB, represented India at the World Schools Debating and Public Speaking Championship. Given the size and nature of the competition, naturally, there was much to discuss regarding our performance, especially considering Aryan’s achievement of attaining 3rd rank in debating worldwide. What went largely unmentioned, however, were the experiences, learnings, and at times, the gaiety that never left us. I do feel that such takeaways from a fulfilling and remarkable week (not to be confused with activity week, of course) are worth expressing.
We spent six days of the competition in the host school, Bishop’s School, which shared the trait of being an all-boys boarding school. The boys of Bishop’s even share Doscos’ eagerness to organize and work for events that involved the opposite sex. Indeed, there was also something frighteningly familiar in the way they awkwardly stood in large groups and loudly cracked jokes or boasted of various accomplishments. Perhaps Doscos are not the only ones then plagued by this gregariousness— surely, there must be others who suffer the same curse? But regardless of such tendencies, we were surprised by our ability to get to know people quickly and talk about the widest range of topics, be it party norms in the UK or the Turkish occupation of Cyprus.
The Championship itself began on the third day of the trip, and was divided into the categories of Interpretative Reading, Impromptu Speaking, Persuasive or After-Dinner Speech, and our personal favourite, Debating. Being accustomed to a logic-based form of speaking—that too, mostly in debates— it was clear that we had to bring out much more pathos than we usually did in every category to actually appeal to the audience. This was made quite evident when Aryan referred to a supposedly humorous incident during a speech given by Fidel Castro, which was greeted with almost equally humorous indifference by Aryan’s audience (the Americans were unsurprisingly the fiercest in their refusal to recognize the joke). So, I think the greatest takeaway was establishing a connection with a crowd, whether it be through humour or even appeals to morality. As our School Debating Captain so eloquently put it, “Manner might just matter as much as matter.”
On our last day, we had a visit planned the Botanical Gardens, which were surprisingly green given the water crisis that plagues Cape Town. We strolled through it as if we were dreaming for it truly seemed to some of us the closest possible replica of the Garden of Eden. So, for about an hour, we roamed this florists’ paradise with not a clue what any of the flowers were or what their significance was. All we knew was that the place itself was sublime. At one point, we sat down in a circle of wooden logs to catch a breath— the breath, of course, lasted for a good hour. Aside from our distinct lack of potent magic, perhaps the main thing that distinguished us from a gathering of Gallic druids was that druids probably did not laugh as much as we did. Laughter was a constant companion of ours throughout the trip; whether in the form of light gossipy titters or loud unfiltered guffaws, it was omnipresent.
Amidst the laughter, learnings, and friendships, another thing that remained with us for the entire trip was the all-pervasive water crisis of Cape Town. Perhaps it was distance that did not let us fully realize the harrowing predicament that is water shortage. Perhaps it was simply too easy to push away. But going and witnessing—or experiencing, rather—the water crisis first hand changed all that. The joys of laughing and debating were all very well but encountering dry taps and un-flushable toilets really made us comprehend that some problems are far too big to push away.