There comes a time when age suddenly catches up with all of us. And so it has with the Man from Madras Musings, who until last week was of the view that he was a young man on the threshold of life. That he was not so came home to him rather brutally, when he, in answer to an invitation, went to inaugurate a literary club at a medical college in the city.
The teachers were effusive in their welcome and several came up and said that they read everything that MMM wrote. He fervently hopes that they will give this particular instalment a miss by the way. But then they may not and that is one of the risks in writing this column. It may however still be a blessing for chances are that they may not invite MMM again in case they take umbrage at what follows. That as Shakespeare said, is a consummation devoutly to be wished. However, let us get on with the story.
MMM was ushered in by beaming office-bearers, teachers and others to a hall full of students, all of whom dutifully clapped. Thereafter, MMM was taken to the stage where after an introduction full of the usual howlers about him, MMM was asked to speak. This being a club to promote literary tastes in English among the students, MMM had prepared a speech concerning authors whose books he had enjoyed. He could have saved himself the effort and spoken about some lesser-known authors in Swahili for instance, such being the connect he established with the audience.
There was a certain dull despair about the students that ought to have warned MMM at the very outset. It was clear that they had all been brought together for the sole purpose of satisfying some teacher(s) who had felt that the students needed to improve their English. If only they had told MMM this in advance, he would have thrown in a passage or two on the alphabet and sung a nursery rhyme as well.
Not being so enlightened MMM embarked on his topic. Around five minutes into the subject, he realised that he was making no impact. Jokes about Jane Austen for instance, that had had audiences in places such as the Book Club rolling off their chairs, left his hearers stone cold. It soon sank into MMM that the group had never heard of Austen. He then changed tacks and began mentioning other authors in quick succession – Charlotte Bronte, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, RK Narayan… no, there was not a reaction. What about JK Rowling? Though MMM cannot claim to be a fan, she being a top-ranking author of the present generation, he thought she would strike a chord. But no. In desperation MMM turned to the Bard of Avon and asked the students if they had heard of Shakespeare. There was deathly silence. MMM then decided to speak on libraries he had grown up with – the British Council, the Connemara, the National in Calcutta, the Roja Muthiah…no, once again a complete disconnect. It then occurred to MMM that he would have been better off reciting the names of a few shopping malls in the city.
MMM then changed tack and began speaking about Tamil literature. This he thought might ring a bell somewhere in minds clouded by cell phone ringtones. The teachers drew in their collective breath. After this was a club to promote English literature. Why then was MMM spewing forth on the vernacular? They could have exhaled freely, for the students were as unresponsive as ever. MMM speculated on whether he ought to take up Bengali next but then decided to give up. But to be fair to the boys and girls, some did clap at the mention of Tamil and the necessity for knowing it well.
It was only when MMM sat down that he was received with thunderous applause. This he realised was more by way of thanksgiving for ending the speech quickly, ten minutes ahead of closing time. The vote of thanks was effusive and the teacher who recited it said she looked forward to MMM coming again soon to speak on other aspects of literature. Deciding it was time to shake the dust of the place from his feet, MMM picked up the bouquet of flowers and the fruit hamper and left.
Returning home, MMM decided to look on the positive aspect – at least they did not gift him a coffee mug. MMM however has decided – he is done with addressing college students. It is a task for younger people.