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Read his teleprompted lips

New Delhi, Nov. 1: Nah-Mah-S-Tay, India.

The man who mesmerised you with that silver-tongued “Yes we can” will use a teleprompter while addressing Indian MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament on November 8.

The teleprompter has been used by American Presidents since 1952 but the loquacious life-saver will be making what could probably be its debut in the august Indian House, thanks to Barack Obama.

Used to the machine-gun delivery of Indian politicians who are never at a loss for words, officials here were a bit perplexed when the US embassy broached the topic of affixing a teleprompter to the lectern Obama will use for his 20-minute address to 800-odd MPs from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

“We assumed that Obama, being such a brilliant orator, delivers speeches extempore,” said an official. “Probably to avoid Bushisms,” suggested a Parliament House source who, along with his colleagues and officials of the external affairs ministry, spent the day discussing the matter with a technical team from the US.

Sources said they could not recall an instance when a teleprompter, also called autocue or telescript, was used in the Parliament Hall earlier. Bill Clinton gave a long speech in 2000 but the officials said they had no information that a teleprompter had been used.

Teleprompters are par for the course in the TV industry, helping anchors read out text scrolling on a screen in front of them. Some merciless British commentators have gone to the extent of dubbing pretty faces in TV newsrooms “autocuties”.

With Obamamania ebbing in the US, he has come in for some lampooning with websites like TeleprompterPresident.com listing an incident when he took out a teleprompter to address sixth graders and later the media. The White House clarified that Obama had used the teleprompter to address the media, not the students.

The world had a mirth-filled glimpse of the contents of a teleprompter speech when the original draft of George W. Bush’s address in the UN General Assembly in September 2007 was inadvertently posted on the Internet.

It showed a phonetic pronunciation guide to help the then US President tackle difficult “foreign names”. A sample of the phonetic spellings: sar-KO-zee (for French President Nicolas Sarkozy), hah-RAR-ray (Harare) and KEYR-geez-stan (Kyrgystan).

No doubt, Speaker Meira Kumar and Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who will share the dais with the US President, will be straining their ears to catch how Obama pronounces their names.

The other occupant of the dais, Manmohan Singh, will have no such anxiety, considering the President’s penchant to use terms such as “Mr Guru” and “wise” while referring to the Prime Minister.

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