Chennai: When Bassanio took a loan of about 3,000 ducats from Shylock and failed to pay it on time, he was asked for a pound of Antonio’s flesh in return. It was Portia’s strong argument that saved Antonio from Shylock.
The popular scene is from ‘The Merchant of Venice’, scripted by Shakespeare explaining how debating skills can change one’s fortune. Transcending from the fictional world to the real one, it is the same skill that has brought pride to the country as five students from the city got second place in the The World Schools Debating Championship (WSDC) held in Croatia between 17 and 27 July.
The team, comprising Dhananjay Ashok, Hemanth Bharat Chakravarthy, Manya Gupta, Saranya Ravindran and Tejas Subramaniyan, was sponsored by Ramco Group and they went on to secure the silver cup by defeating countries such as England, North Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and many others on their road to glory.
Students from England, South Africa and Singapore had won in the past. The Indian team did not have things easy back then, losing out to Singapore (thrice) and China (twice).
‘News Today’ caught up with Dhananjay Ashok and Hemanth Bharath Chakravarthy, who were awarded 16th and first ‘World’s Best Speaker’ titles respectively at the championship.
Hemanth said, “For the very first time in Indian history, we managed to beat Singapore in the semi-finals and went on to win the silver cup. Although we lost to China, it was very narrow with a single judge making the difference.”
Unlike in previous years, the technique of power-pairing was used in the qualifying round where well-performing contestants were made to face debaters who were on equal terms, they said.
Similarly, contestants would be given the topic three months prior to the tourney, whereas this year, they were announced a night before the tournament that made us make extra preparations, the duo said.
“Since we were power-paired, it meant that we had to defeat countries such as England, South Korea, China and Singapore, who have all taken top honours at WSDC. In the qualifying round, Malaysia defeated us,” said Dhananjay, who has represented the country thrice and likes to debate on international relations.
Being in a debating society, it is imperative to stay abreast of all the current happenings in the world, the city lads said.
The two debaters rely on magazines, videos and feed from YouTube and Facebook to be familiar with different dimensions of any issue.
“The tournament by itself is truly an enriching experience. Apart from bringing the best debaters in the country, it is the knowledge exchange puts WSDC a cut above the rest,” said Hemanth, the first Indian to represent the country four times at the tournament.
Asked about how unique this years’ edition was, Hemanth said, “Apart from the materialistic experiences, it is the difference in my arguments that brought me to this stage. I was naive when I represented India for the first time in 2014 and I was not pressurised. Looking back at this year’s tournament, being one of the senior most contestant with experience, I had to live up to the expectations and share responsibility with my peers.”
Hemanth said debates are not given any prominence in the country. “The argument gets diluted and is shallow in India but whereas it is radically different in other countries which is very interesting. In an attempt to identify quality debaters across the country, the Indian School of Debating Society (ISDS) is charting out a new programme to take the subtle art of debating to government schools,” he said.