Continuing from part 1 here on how the Man from Madras Musings was invited to speak at a college.
The audience was a group of bored students who had apparently been suffering a two-day symposium on the same subject. They looked as prepared as MMM to make a quick dash for it had they not been restrained by attendance rules.
The programme began with the gushing lady introducing MMM and the other guest. “We have in our midst the great NNN,” she declared. And then proceeded to read out a bio data that MMM was fairly certain belonged to NNN whoever that was but certainly not he. It was only halfway through it that MMM realised it was an old profile of his, something that was at least ten years old when MMM was a mere mmm. After that wound its way to an end, MMM got onto the mike and held forth for ten minutes, returning to his seat to thunderous applause, no doubt owing to his having been brief.
Then came the turn of the main speaker. And listening to him, MMM realised as to why history was such an unpopular subject. Beginning with a simple statement that he would hold forth on the post-orientalist subaltern colonial approach to history or something that sounded like that, the speaker went on to dwell at length on post-empiricism, post-structuralism and the linguistic turn. He then waxed eloquent on epistemological violence where truth is power and thundered about bourgeois Indian nationalism which, he said, had elided from something to something else that MMM has quite forgotten.
He had a presentation that was in essence every word of his speech and this played on in the background. MMM, whose vision is not of the very best, decided to spend his time usefully by treating the power point presentation as a sort of eye test, trying his best to read all the words as they passed everyone by. MMM also occasionally stole a glance at the audience. A group of girls at a far corner were giggling away. Two teachers dozed off and their heads nodded in unison. MMM waited to see if they would collide and was soon rewarded for his penance. The commotion caused by the two of them knocking their heads and waking up caused a few others to stir. And all the while the professor spoke on about the empiricists and the structuralists. Having exhausted that he said he had set the stage for the present-day situation and then spoke on something called the Cambridge school for a few minutes. And then, just as he appeared to be all set to go on for the entire afternoon, he suddenly finished and sat down. The result was stunning. The audience, realising that freedom was nigh, clapped uproariously.
Driving home, MMM could not help wondering if any of the students had taken back anything worthwhile by way of history from the talk. MMM is not blaming the professor who spoke, but he belonged to a different strata altogether, that of senior dons at a high table discussing matters of pith and moment. It was hardly the kind of speech that would inspire students to take to a career in history.
The only one who appeared pleased was the gushing lady. She had achieved the task of conducting a two-day workshop. But then, certificates were given and everybody went home happy.
Back home, The Man from Madras Musings declared that he would rather not attend another college event if he could help it. To this his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, said rather tartly that all MMM had to do was to write about it in his column and his wishes would be fulfilled. She also said something about not having any friends ever since MMM began writing ‘that dratted column’ but MMM opted not to hear that. Trust the good lady to come up with a solution.