Thursday, March 29, 2007

March Madness

It’s that time of year. Conferences, workshops, seminars, symposiums--you name it--are springing up like crocuses and daffodils in Spring.

Money that has been made available for grants to cover the cost of academic gatherings must be spent by the end of the financial year, which, in India, is the end of March. So everyone’s been scrambling to spend it.

As a result, in recent weeks I’ve been kind of inundated with requests to speak here, there, and everywhere. I estimate that I’ve addressed well over 1000 people in the past two weeks alone. Not that I've received much of that grant money that's been floating around; my services are usually given gratis.

I’ve been guest speaker at a gathering of Sanskrit professors. I was the “opening batsman” at a conference of the National Academy of Psychologists. I was the keynote speaker at a two-day workshop on “Open and Distance Learners” for the Directorate of Distance Education at Sri Venkateswara University here in Tirupati. At the same university I addressed the graduating seniors in the College of Commerce. The following day I spoke to the students studying for their Masters in English Literature.

I’m obviously not being asked to give speeches because I’m famous or anything. Nor am I being invited because I’m recognized as an expert in any particular field. I’m being asked to speak because I’m willing and available and can be slotted in at a moment’s notice.

For example, I was asked to give the Keynote Address for the Open and Distance Learners conference only five days before the event! I’m guessing that originally they must have had someone else in mind; but they failed to snag whoever it was, so I was an afterthought. What also happens is when some professor will come up to greet me after I've given a presentation and ask me if I’d be willing to come to his or her university to do the same. I’m in the habit of saying “Yes” to all such invitations, so inevitably I’m kept busy.

No problem. Put me behind a podium, flip the switch, and I can talk the hind leg off a donkey. It’s fun, having a platform where you can express your opinion. It’s even more fun when people appreciate what you have to say.

You won’t believe this, but after one presentation in a town called Guntur in Andhra Pradesh state, I was mobbed by students wanting my autograph!! Honestly; I was mobbed. For the first time in my life I appreciated what it must be like to be famous.

There’s no question of this "celebrity status" going to my head, by the way, even though, as my dear wife, Marilyn, will attest, I am “a legend in my own mind!”

Believe me, any inflated delusions I might have had about where I fit in this grand scheme of academic affairs were very effectively deflated when the university where I was to deliver the Keynote Address sent a motorbike to bring me to the venue!

A motorbike, for heaven’s sake! No private, air-conditioned car; no air-conditioned taxi; not even an auto rickshaw.

But I’ve come to love riding on the back of motorbikes and scooters. It’s a great way to experience India and, as I said in my Keynote Address at the Open and Distance Learning conference, I’ve come to love India, too. One way or another, I hope to experience it a whole lot more in the years ahead.

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