Travails of public speaking
They collect in droves all around the city and flourish. And like Abou Ben Adhem, their tribe increases all the time. The Man from Madras Musings is not referring to mosquitoes but to social groups. They call themselves by various names, have their rules. Some are exclusive to members of one sex. Most are upper class with the public reputation of membership being open only by invitation. In reality, most are on the prowl for members all the time and the only criterion for selection, at least in MMM’s eyes, is a well-endowed wallet. But, be that as it may, no matter what be the society or group, one aspect is fairly common, namely the necessity to hold periodic meetings – which can be weekly, fortnightly or monthly – and serve food and have a speaker to hold forth on a subject. The last named is where MMM comes in. He is, as they say, much sought after.
And in a long career of being invited to speak, MMM can say with authority that most of these places lack the very basics of meeting etiquette. Several of these organisations, after extending a warm invitation and confirming a date, will conveniently forget to give information about the venue and time. The location is often fixed at the last minute and who should be the last to receive the information but the speaker. MMM has on several occasions had to call up and ascertain the venue. He has often also been sorely tempted to simply stay away on the pretext of not knowing the venue but has never put it into practice, merely out of sense of pity for the principal organiser who probably has several things on his/her plate.
Perhaps too much on his/her plate to even turn up at the event that he/she organised. MMM has many a time landed up at a venue only to find that the person who invited MMM has chosen to be AWOL. On such occasions, members of the club or society have looked on MMM as an intruder and whispered among themselves as to who MMM could be (the cleaner, or the chappie who was to bring the refreshments? – these being common speculations). It has been left to MMM to break the ice and rather uncertainly introduce himself as the speaker. After which there would be the inevitable fawning and the slow breaking of the news that XYZ who organised everything could not make it.
Next is the introduction. Here MMM has noticed several kinds. The majority comprises the type that boldly marches up, introduces itself and says that it has been saddled with the job of introducing the speaker. It then goes on to confess that the task was just entrusted to it and so since MMM is a closed book as far as it is concerned, could MMM give it a printed CV? Then there is the other type which breezily says that it has to introduce MMM and so would he oblige with a few top-of-line details? These are then vaguely committed to memory. When the introduction takes place, it is a mix of fact and fiction. There is a third variety which thinks it has to be flippant about the speaker, perhaps in revenge for the pain and punishment of listening to whatever he has to say thereafter. The last one resorts to endless praise and hyperbole and speaks longer than the invited speaker.
The audience is invariably thin at these events. Many, no doubt, wisely opted to stay away. MMM has in an earlier column lamented about events where the organiser expects the speaker to make up a crowd and so he will desist from repeating himself. But an audience comprising the President and Secretary of the society/club, a couple of others, and the caterer’s representative is hardly any encouragement.
And as for the Vote of Thanks, the less said the better. By then most of the audience wants to leave or, if the event is pre-prandial, is keen on the refreshment counter. At this time rises the Voter of Thanks who either tries to repeat all that MMM said or to begin a point by point critique, adding what he/she thinks were relevant points that MMM could have included but missed – all of which, in fact, MMM cut out keeping time schedule in mind. After all, unlike the Voter of Thanks, MMM had a fixed time duration for his speech.
If those of you who made it thus far thought that ended the travails of The Man from Madras Musings, let MMM assure you that you are sadly mistaken. A recent public speaking episode at one of those hi-tech buildings that go by the name of Park or City in the Taramani vicinity, stands out in MMM’s memory. The speech over, MMM was thanked briefly and shown the door. What he was not informed about was that the parking area of the hi-tech ‘city’ was an overgrown forest, which had not looked so intimidating in the evening when MMM had driven in. Now, much later and the sun having long set, it was full of dark and mysterious shadows. Leaves rustled and out of the undergrowth came creepies and crawlies that wound themselves lovingly around MMM. And the only light that there was came from MMM’s cell-phone which was already warning MMM that the battery was low on charge. After a couple of twists (of the ankle) and a turn, MMM could dimly see a line of parked cars. He identified his only by repeatedly pressing the remote and praying for a response.
Once in the car, MMM had to make his way out of the parking lot and, presto, he found himself at the rear entrance of the hi-tech city. This was not so hi-tech, for it contained the left-over construction material from the hi-tech wonder and it also housed the remnants of the rural street that was probably uprooted to make way for the hi-tech. MMM had to ask his way to civilisation. There was not a street light in the entire stretch. Kindly shapes and voices asked MMM to keep going straight till he came to a political party’s flag-post at which spot he was to turn left. What the helpful ones had omitted to mention was that the flag-posts in the area outnumbered the resident population.
After several false turnings and quite a few muttered prayers, MMM found himself at a street corner. And then there it was – the Chennai that MMM knew – fumes, buses, cars, traffic jams. With a song on his lips, MMM drove home. But not before mentally resolving never to venture near these hi-tech cities and parks. In MMM’s rather limited view, all this talk of these buildings being repositories of wisdom and the best of civilisation is a sham. What sort of buildings are these if they create islands of affluence, completely cut off from the chaos and sordidness of their immediate environs? And they probably only added to the mess, for Taramani was till not long ago a sylvan oasis.
News has it that all schools in the State are to be closed this week on a particular day. The Man from Madras Musings learns that this is to conduct an aptitude test for teachers. Now, what better way to test this than give them a day off from what they are supposed to have an aptitude for? Or, is there some message in all this?