April 28, 2017

Long Sentences

Desmond Macedo

I got into the lift to go up to my office on the fourteenth floor. A few colleagues also entered along with me.

As the door shut, a colleague began: 'This year, Mumbai's heat is in sharp contrast to the previous years. If my memory serves me right, Mumbai temperatures were always in the region of 35, 36 degrees. And I can remember Mumbai temperatures every summer with a fair degree of accuracy; this year it is the highest,' he said as all the rest nodded a yes.

This weather editorial made me think: Clich├ęs make long sentences.

And if the ride in a lift is going to be fourteen floors long, stops included, you will need to construct long sentences to last through the ride.

So, as it happens, long sentences tend to be useful in polite conversations.

I could manage the heat. If I try, I could even remember the coming few years’ summer temperatures of Mumbai with a fair degree of accuracy, since my memory for incidents that have not yet happened serves me right as well. It was polite conversation that I had difficulty with. It seemed to be all about filling the space between people with prattle and babble so you look well informed. As vacuous as it is ironical.

And polite conversation is tiresome. Fourteen floors of prattle and babble are more tiring than waiting to catch a local train whose arrival is uncertain. Whenever I get drawn into one I wish I was successful, so I wouldn’t have to make polite conversation with anyone.

Like polite conversation, there is polite listening. But if long sentences are useful in polite conversations, try listening to one.

‘Wassup?’ was introduced early this millennium or thereabouts, which was the most useful conversational piece invented. Simple, cheerful, very expressive, Wassup? was never intended to start conversations. So nobody answers that question.

In an office there is plenty of polite conversation. If you’re getting familiar with people around, or meeting someone for the first time, a typical office chat would run like:

Where are you from? (Hometown)
What have you done? (Education/Specialisation)
Which college?
Is this your first job? if you are young, otherwise, Where were you before this?
Since the millennium arrived, another one was added: Is this your first career choice?
So you've done like Mass Communication and stuff? depending on your profession.

Most of the time it is quite innocent. Sometimes, it can be inquisitive, which is irritating.

Some years ago I ran into a young advertising copywriter, who, after finishing the hometown / first-job series, continued: 'Where were you before this?'

‘Lintas,’ I said.

‘Before that?’

'Ogilvy & Mather.'

'Oh wow. And how long were you there?

‘Two years.’

‘Ahh ha. And where were you before that?'

I answered patiently: 'Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne.' I had hoped that another high-sounding, this time four-Anglo-Saxon-titled advertising agency, would shut the young writer up.

It didn’t.

'You would’ve done another two years there, I’m sure, with a couple of awards under your belt by now, a Group Head prefixed to your name, and, without a doubt, reporting to the Creative Director, and nibbling at his heels’ he said, paused to grin, then continued, his tone rising at every stage of my job trail, ‘Though, I am curious to know where you got your grounding; where were you trained in the nitty gritties of the creative process, the tempering of the mettle and igniting of the spark, so to speak; where did you start?'

'Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,” I replied, rather stylishly.

Silence at last.

The young, aspiring copywriter had never heard of this advertising agency. Nor could he look like he had never heard of it. So no further conversation took place.