“That was an excellent speech,” said the young man gyrating next to me on the dance floor. He had just heard me deliver the Father of the Groom speech during my son’s wedding.
“Thank you,” I said.
I felt good to get a positive feedback. I had started working on the speech two months before the wedding date. It is always good to get a head start, I thought. I wondered what theme I should adopt. I remembered a book I had read a few years back called The Suitable Boy by the Indian author Vikram Seth. The book is about Lata, the protagonist, and her decision to select one of the two young men she befriends as her future husband. The two men are of opposite qualifications, one being a poet and an intellectual and the other a shoe salesman. It is illuminating to read about Lata’s decision making process regarding the man she finally chose. While she is befriending these young men Lata’s mother has other ideas, as illustrated by the very first sentence in the novel.
During the wedding ceremony of Lata’s sister, her mother turns to her and says:
“You too will marry a boy I choose.”
Lata’s mother is not happy at her frowning.
The book goes on for more than one thousand pages.
The Indian Diaspora, with children growing up in the United States, is faced with a similar quandary. Their American born children are not in favor of arranged marriages. There is a column in the Washington Post weekend magazine called the Date Lab. Every week the Post sends two people to a restaurant and report on how it went. When I mentioned to my son that this meeting rarely results in a permanent relationship, he said:
“It never works, Dad.”
The point he made was that a relationship develops only when two people select each other and not via someone else’s arrangement. I did not try to make this point when I started to draft my speech, but the thought did go through my mind. When I mentioned this to my wife, she immediately vetoed against it.
“You need to show what type of person our son is,” She said. “High light his accomplishments, his character, and the great things he has been successful at.”
I agreed. Like all writers I revised my earlier draft. I thought I should mention all the organizations he had worked at starting with the Sports Illustrated for Kids, where he rose from a reporter to a senior editor before moving on to the Guardian and currently to the Washington Post.
During our weekly talks I informed my son that I am working on my speech. I had not even been invited to speak as yet.
“You will speak,” he said, “but I don’t know when during the reception.”
I talked to him about my ideas and the framework.
“Dad,” he said quiet firmly. “I don’t want it to sound like my resume. I’m getting married, not looking for a job.”
I knew it was time to go back to the drawing board. Isn’t revision a major part of the writing process?
I requested my wife to talk to me about some of the anecdotes she remembered since when we lived on Long Island, New York, before moving to Northern Virginia. I started making a final outline and bring structure to the speech.
After two or three more revisions and getting feedback from my wife and our daughter I had a good enough draft. The structure was the same I had successfully used during my daughter’s wedding ten years ago. I was careful to transition between the anecdotes smoothly and to use the narrative to advance the “plot”. I started by thanking everyone, acknowledged the elders in the audience, told something about my son in interesting and funny anecdotes, told how he met his fiancée, something about her and finally wished them happiness.
It seems to have worked well. My five-minute speech was interrupted many times with applause. I maintained my composure and steady pace during the delivery.
“Your speech was excellent,” said the young lady who was in charge of the audio and had fitted me with a micro phone on my coat lapel and a receiver in my pocket, as she approached me to retrieve the equipment. I thanked her.
As I walked towards my table a young man stopped me and asked,
“Do you belong to the Toast Masters?”
“No. I don’t,” I said. I wondered why he asked.
One close acquaintance standing nearby chimed in.
“Your speech was so great,” she said. “Now my husband is under pressure to do equally good when our son gets married later this year.”
“I’m sure he will do fine,” I replied.
Later during my rounds to meet the guests and to thank them I happened to talk to our neighbor.
“That was a good speech,” he said adding. “Don’t you have a blog or something?”
“Yes I do,” I replied. “I also published a book recently.”
“Oh, yeah! I didn’t know that. What’s it called?”
“Choices They Made. Check it out on Amazon.”
“Well, that explains it.”
I surmised that he attributed the quality of my speech to the fact that I was a writer.
There may be a bit of truth to that. I am not saying that one has to be a writer to be a good speaker. But I do think that the skills one develops as a writer — the organizational approach, developing a structure and continual improvement of the content — does come with practicing the craft.