Small Talk in a Big World – Dr. Temjenwabang, Assistant Professor History

A zealous school reformer, wearied by jousting with the status quo, heard about a spiritualist who was able to make contact with the dear departed. So one evening, he went to one of her seances. And when his turn came, he asked her to make contact with John Dewey. After struggling for a while, she reached America’s greatest philosopher. The reformer was thrilled. “Professor Dewey,” he said, “We have labored for 15 years to improve America’s schools without success. Please tell me how we can create the kinds of schools our children need and deserve?” Dewey hesitated a moment and replied: “Well, there is the natural way and the miraculous way. Which do you want?” The reformer, his idealism faltering, asked for the natural way. “The natural way,” Dewey said, “Would be for God to send down bands of angels to visit every single public school and transform them into places of true learning.” “Good heavens,” gasped the reformer. “What then is the miraculous way?” “Ah,” said Dewey, “The miraculous way would be for the people to do it themselves.

Small Talk in a Big World

Well said Dewey! No word has ever pricked my senses more than your ‘miraculous way’. It took me years to come to this enlightening fact, well, past my prime’s best, yet never too late. Let us picture this as a metaphor in our life’s trudges and the environment around us, say for instance, my struggle for a sensible interaction with the world around me. A big word of regret still lingers in my thought, ‘only if I gave myself the chance to make life easier when I had the opportunity to do it’. Talking about opportunity and chance, let me share this subtle yet thought provoking experience for all of us to learn from.
I remember it was years ago while I was a research scholar at Hyderabad University when to my horror, I discovered the inadequacies of my communicative side. I lived on a beautiful campus where everything seemed perfect to me. Well, almost perfect, until I began to have conversations in ‘English’ with friends or with members of the faculty. I wondered why every time I faltered whenever I have those conversations. My tailored-English simply ran out within two hundred words, to be precise. The rest was history with generous amounts of grins and fake smiles and nods. The right words fail me when I need them the most! And every time this happens, my memory goes back to that unforgettable July day in the summer of 2003…
In a small hall drenched by beams of sunlight filtering through the gaps of the curtains, I awaited my turn to have an audience with a teacher of my old school. This time, it was not for the usual punishment; I was meeting my ex-teacher!
My turn came as soon as a parent crossed past the threshold of the Headmaster’s room, perhaps having dealt with another case of a mischievous child. But as I brushed my musings aside and turned towards his room, nervousness gripped me…
Knock, knock!
“Come in!”
I was sweating profusely but I managed to address him with a feverish grin, “… May… may… I… I come in … Sss… SIR?”
“Ah, my old naughty boy! Good to see you,” boomed the Headmaster. “I hope you are not here for another round of mischief… punishments having improved lately my boy Ha! Effective ones I’d say… no pain involved, only pure guilt, just enough to bring you back on track… Ah! thanks to the innovative teaching methods, corporal is out, my boy. Good news, nah? You wish to be back in school again, don’t you? Well, anyway let me hear from your end, my boy…”
And just as I made an effort to answer: “I… ” I was flooded by a volley of questions – “How was your trip back home? How is your institute? How about your teachers? Any plans for research?”the queries went on…!”
Much to the amusement of the Head, our eventful meeting was marked by numerous “stammers”. I could see his silent grins when I made the effort to converse sensibly.
Our conversation drew to an end, and as I walked out, the Head uttered his parting shot, “It’s a big world boy, make the most of it… you’ve got more than you have right now.”
I understood!
I came out of his room ashamed, but wiser. I learnt an important lesson; ‘silence’ may be ‘golden’, but not always! Conversation is an important human interactive art; I was well versed when it came to speaking on my subject-matter. However when it came to ‘speaking’ or ‘conversing’ sensibly with the world, I felt terribly suffocated. I was tongue-tied in most instances, the more I made an effort to speak, the more I stammered!
I was seriously asking myself as I walked out of the school, “Is my speech selective to subject-matter, or is it the reaction to situations that determine my speech fluency?” Though the answer may lie anywhere at any stage of our lives, in my case, I realised that I had rather faithfully adhered to ‘Omerta’ (the Sicilian code of silence), with the self-assurance that ‘equipping myself with writing skills and my subject-matter is more than enough’. I shouldn’t have!
That, I am sure, was where I missed out on an important aspect; ‘speaking’ or ‘conversing,’ an area I thought was of no importance to me. However, experiences down the stammering years affirm that ‘conversing’ is as important as writing or any form of communication.
They say that a skill is not only intuitive or acquired, but it also needs nurturing for an individual to sustain it. I still wish to revisit my school days and pick up on things I have missed; debates, extempore, book reading sessions, discussions and jabbering with my old friends. If only I had heeded my teachers’ encouragements to actively participate in activities involving human interaction, I know they could have given me something more that I struggled with–good conversation skills, one of the important keys to human communication. As for you, young readers, you have the time and opportunity with you now, Go! Grab it! Before the good times are past your reach.
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:

Leave a Reply