When debating is fun and an enriching activity, how do debating tournaments turn out to be strenuous and tardy?

One of the first things you learn after joining the debating circuit in the University of Delhi is how every tournament might be different, but they all have that one thing in common, they all run late. The schedules will always ask you to come at 8:30 or 9 am, and as a novice debater, you will go to the respective college on time. You will reach on time like me, 30 minutes before schedule, only to find the college empty or with other naïve fresher debaters as yourself. Despite Whatsapp messages from the Organizing Committee a night before the tournament, requesting you to be on time, the affair will, certainly, not start before 11 am.

Apart from the delays, what comprises a debating tournament are the jitters you get as you come with your entire college contingent, waiting for the roll call to end, seeing other teams, recognizing people- mostly the ones you lost against at the previous tournament and for the motions to come out.

As the round begins, you see people immediately fall into their teams, the serious whispers, arguments being constructed, people rushing towards their rooms. The tension in the room is self-evident. What is stressful about Parliamentary Debating is how you do not get to prepare a speech and do not know what the other side will bring to the table.

It is just you using the 20 minutes of preparation using all the training you have received in mocks, the news you were grilled to read up on by your seniors, the techniques you learned while missing classes; all these things culminate to determine whether you win or not. And this goes on till the five rounds come to an end.

Debates get more intense in senior tournaments, against people who are third years or, sometimes, Law students who are much older than you. Their age and experience are unfair assets they hold against you, which can often lead to them not taking you seriously. Post breaks. the pressure is quadrupled, because a single unrebutted argument or poor analysis does not mean you can go on to next round but you are out of the tournament itself.

Five rounds, usually spread over two days might sound like a comfortable schedule. However, the small delays gradually add up to massive interludes not allowing participants to leave before 8 pm. With some tournaments even ending around midnight, security is a major concern, given that there are no provisions for transportation.

Furthermore, it is rare that colleges provide accommodation only with higher registration fees. As it gets late, the college is closed and so you can find the last round being wrapped up in the college grounds or near the gates.
Being from a girls’ college, safety is an even bigger issue. It being a new experience, in the beginning, parents worry incessantly with frequent calls, texts, scolding and requests to reconsider this activity. Some even come to pick their children up on late nights. Gradually they become well acquainted with this pattern and you begin to hear about how you do not go to ‘college’ but to ‘debating society’.
You will come home to see stories of your friends out on weekends while you went to debate. And despite the stress, anxiety, mental and physical exhaustion and feelings of self-doubt you will be willing to compromise on your social life next weekend as well, and the reason is very simple. The feeling of learning, knowing, being smarter than the smartest and the thrill you experience is indomitable.

Featured Image credits- Hindustan Times

Shivani Dadhwal
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