Less is More

While a student at Dhaka College, I never got to see the inside of my Section C classroom. But I vividly remember three things: the common room from the daylong carom games, the cafeteria for its mouthwatering samosas, and the mini amphitheatre of Section A—that's right, Section A, which was NOT my section, where I never failed to show up for the Bangla classes.

I wasn't alone. Just about everyone from sections B and C were there too. And not only that, some of our friends from Notre Dame College trekked across town (and Heaven alone knows how they "bunked" their classes) and managed to shoehorn themselves into the gallery where students were already packed in like sardines.

We all gather in the massive gallery with two pathetic fans on a sweltering June afternoon to hear the most entertaining talk on topics not even remotely related to the assigned chapter that the teacher was (supposed to be) teaching us. The lecture goes nowhere beyond the first line of the whole chapter. This continues for the whole of the first year.

For raging teenagers with the nearby Balaka cinema hall and New Market beckoning (yes, the prehistoric entertainment from the analog days), this was the next best thing that could happen to us. This was Anondo Mela, live! And literally speaking. After all, not everyone is the one and only Prof Abdullah Abu Sayeed.

Surprisingly, very few of us are remotely close to what he is. It's not that we don't talk. In fact, we talk quite a bit but we simply can't talk. Wonder why there is a collective, muffled groan when the chief guest says: "I don't want to lengthen my speech anymore…" which means he will go on for another 45 minutes. Just like there is always the one conversation hog at a roundtable like the one hogging up the coveted biryani potatoes at the wedding dinner table.

This automatically creates the poor listener. When someone calls, we look at the phone, stare at it for a few seconds while making a sure shot mental calculation, and then confidently put the phone down without answering it. More often than not, the caller has the reputation of embarking on an unending rant. Worse, there is an unfathomable blurry line between topics so as to make it impossible to discern the segue and thus the window to interject is never in sight.

Now this, in turn, creates the rapid speaker. Knowing that we have poor listeners with extremely short attention spans who will cut you off at the knees any minute, we speak at a staccato Mach 2.2 speed. We have to squeeze in as much as possible before being shot down.

So, being the poor speaker, we're the poor listener, and being the poor listener, we're the poor speaker.

Is there an escape from the vicious cycle?

"Obviously!" By the way, this is the most commonly used one-word answer (in Bangladesh) to just about every conceivable question on earth.

"Are you working anywhere?"


But to me, it sounds like: "[Yes, I'm working.] Obviously! [Why are you even asking me this stupid question? You moron!]"

This is the broad spectrum antibiotic to all conceivable questions to be faced at the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), prescribed by the mushrooming quacks. And why not? There is the exodus to Canada and Australia. Oh, and "why not?" is the other phrase in the frequent flier programme.

"Would you like to join me for lunch?"

"Why not? [That was a rather brilliant suggestion on your part, I must say, to ask me to have lunch with you.]"

Well, at least we are now conscious of the need for good verbal communication skills. But let's forget the grand scheme, all I say is that first listen, and listen carefully. It's ok to not get the question the first time around. Ask, rephrase and buy time in the process. Then, for Heaven's sake, be PC. No, not Politically Correct, but just be Precise and Concise. Remember, less is more.

As Mark Twain said, "I'm sorry, I didn't get the time to write you a short letter." But when you DO get that time, you'll be able to explain how the bird escaped from the cage not only in just two sentences, but with both your hands in your pockets…

Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and ABC Radio's Good Morning Bangladesh, and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. Email: [email protected] 

Follow The Daily Star Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions, commentaries and analyses by experts and professionals.

To contribute your article or letter to The Daily Star Opinion, see our guidelines for submission.


কঠিন সময়ের বাজেট

আগামীকাল বৃহস্পতিবার অর্থমন্ত্রীকে টানা দ্বিতীয় বছরের মতো অর্থনৈতিক চাপ মোকাবিলার উদ্যোগ নিয়েই হাজির হতে হবে। কারণ, বিদায়ী অর্থবছরে গৃহীত ব্যবস্থা প্রত্যাশিত প্রতিকার এনে দিতে পারেনি।