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Make It Clear

As the clock strikes 12, Teresa walks into the conference room. Only 2-3 people are seated, but that doesn’t stop the journalist-cum-teacher from starting her class on time. Slowly, the class is interrupted by the creak of the door. One by one, people trickle in with a loud “sorry” and reach out for the nearest chair. It is only by about 12:30 that the class appears settled. By now, Teresa must be used to this scant regard for timings in India. Hmm… I am a typical case in point. I really have no excuse except that I am plain lazy.

Day three into training. I have discovered I quite like Teresa. She is amiable and soft spoken. In fact, so soft-spoken is she that I have to strain to catch her words. I try hard to remain glued to the goings on -- of her power point presentations and written tests. In fact, I quite enjoy these because then I don’t have to struggle to remain awake. Otherwise, the moment she drifts back into her sea of words -- I find the going tough. As expected, I had no clue when she asked, “Did you all do the small homework of ‘jot-out’?” I could hit myself. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Thankfully, no one did his/her homework. “That’s so typical, isn’t it?” she said with a smile. To a latecomer, Teresa explained a jot-out. “You have to write the focus of your story in 6-10 words”. In six-10 words? That’s crazy, I wanted to yell. Well, brevity is the hallmark of intelligence!

Oh, I also realise I like Teresa for another reason. Unlike the earlier training session, I don’t have to write the damn notes. She gives us a ready supply of her lectures in print. That gives us the luxury of going through them at leisure and leaves my fingers free for drawing caricatures.

Today’s session was all about “Make It Clear.” Most of our writings are complex. Fact is, we thrive in complexity of sentences and jargon. The Indian mind is indeed complex, so that reflects on our writings. Ha, ha, that’s one of my greats. Anyway. I agree with Teresa that every writing -- be it on science, business, technology or arts -- must be conversational in style. It must be accessible to the average reader. But find a synonym for ‘infrastructure’? Jesus no, without it no Indian business writing would make sense! Having read enough of Indian business journalists' write-ups, I am sure Teresa has come to her own conclusion that infrastructure is, perhaps, one of the most abused words. She has a solution too. ”Use specifics such as roads, airports, power supply, etc., whatever the case may be. Use the word to describe the country’s infrastructure [ when you take totality into account],” she told us.

And then came the bane of my life: statistics, the essence of business journalism. Without it, no story stands authenticated or vindicated. We were told how to weave numbers beautifully into the text to bring out the right comparisons and show the right effect. If I had a choice, I would take out all the numbers from a story and shuff them into one box somewhere in one of the pages. The number lover can have his eyeful of them. For me, every statistical analysis is statistical paralysis. I hate numbers, period.

Today’s class also invoked some brilliant questions from newcomers. “When do we use sentences beginning with ‘But’ and ‘Which’.” After statistical brilliance, poetic licence too? I wanted to run out of the class… Hopefully, tomorrow will be another day.

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