Its 4 a.m. I have been awake for a while, thinking. Both Jennie and I have acquired colds. Our throats are very sore. Sleep is evasive.
Last evening I gave my long-awaited talk at the National Folklife Support Center. Dr. Eric Miller,the Director of the World Storytelling Institute, who has sponsored my activities here in Chennai, and I arrived early, and had the opportunity to sit for a while with the Director, Dr. M.D. Muthukumaraswamy. Muhtu, as his friends and colleagues affectionately call him, seems a kind and generous man. He is Tamil and hails from Ceylon. He is married to a tribal woman from the North of India, and has been engaged in working with tribal people to preserve, and in some instances, resurrect, tribal arts, stories, and languages.
I enjoyed time with him, immensely, but were are at the Center to present a lecture, and soon found ourselves in tech rehearsal. When the tech matters were handled, I wandered over to a book table where publications of the Center were for sale. Each book seemed a more than worthwhile addition to our library, a thought confirmed by Jennie when she joined me at the table. Dr. Muthukumaraswamy informed me that he had set aside, for me, a complete set of the Center’s journal, and another book as well. As we spoke, I discovered several more books (I could never get them all home!) I would like, and asked whether I might buy them, as I wish to support him and his work in some small way.
This proved a cross cultural moment, as he declined my request (I was the honored guest) and gifted the books to me. I felt both immensely honored, grateful, and embarrassed at the splendid gifts, including books, he had given me. Although I had brought gifts, his generosity had engaged my cultural desire to reciprocate and show gratitude. I was, for the moment, literally caught between cultures, and found myself reminded, yet again, of just how complex seemingly simple interactions can be.
All the while the audience literally poured in, filling the Center’s large conference room to capacity. (The good doctors had worked very hard to secure and audience!) Many people were standing! Concurrently, my sore throat and filling sinuses had rolled me into a sort of cognitive fog. I knew I was in trouble when I could not focus on the many kind things Muthu and Eric said of me.
I had worked on this presentation for several weeks prior to coming to Chennai. While speaking with colleagues and others here, I realized that I would be better off breaking up the discussion of First Nations ideas about healing by interjecting stories. I had also decided to divide the talk into segments, with audience discussion in between.
Given the size of the audience I chose more of a lecture format after all, telling stories and speaking about contemporary First Nations and Mixed Race healing activities and concepts. In the oddly over-focused manner of one who has a cold, I had immense difficulty keeping track of time. Somehow, my 45 minutes past, as if in the proverbial flash, and I found I had run over by 5 minutes. I had just talked, non-stop, for 50 minutes. So much for plans!
I was then scheduled to take questions for 30 minutes. It was quite warm, as I was well-lit, and we had turned off the overhead fan to avoid fouling the mics, so I apologized to the audience several times for keeping them in the heat. (I was subsequently told they were much more comfortable than me.) I ended up taking questions for over an hour!
Finally, after a great many “last questions,” I bad the audience, “goodnight.” This resulted in an exodus from the building, and the formation of a happily disorganized queue of persons wishing to speak with me. Now,through my 4 a.m. haze, come questions I would like to have asked those persons who stood in line to speak with me at the end of the evening.