Friday, April 5, 2013
Workshop at Pondicherry University
I met Dr. Vijayalakshmi in Auroville for the first event we organized under the aegis of Telugu Sankskritika Kendramu at Auroville. She started the Hindi Department in Pondicherry University and has been heading it for more than two decades. When she invited me to do a workshop for the students and staff of her department, I was more than happy. In fact, I was jumping with joy.
The students are post graduates and research scholars. The first hint of an issue came up when I got a mail in Hindi a few days before the workshop. I have working knowledge of spoken Hindi but I struggle to read it. So, after some correspondence in English, I explained that I can respond to questions in Hindi but can conduct the workshop in English.
It was a small group of 15 people. We started well but I was really surprised that the students were not asking any questions. This is much different form my other experiences and I did my best to plod on. However, when we came to the exercise, I did not know how to go ahead when the participants are unwilling to try out. We had hardly any time also to actually do what I planned. The session before lunch started 40 minutes after the planned time. We planned for 2 hours after lunch but stared 50 minutes late. So, I decided to call it off and close 30 minutes earlier as I did not know how to accomplish any meaningful result in such short time with participants who did not write down an answer to a question for 30 minutes.
I felt disappointed and unhappy at the end of it all. Normally, I enjoy doing workshops so much and feel satisfied when people tell me either at the end of the workshop (or sometimes later) how it made a difference to them. This was missing for me. I felt sad that I did not create value for the participants and failed in my commitment to provide it.
In the post-mortem, some of the professors said that the lack of participation from the students is an issue even in normal classes. I was asked to come up with my suggestions. I feel confused about the real issues. Is it language? I don’t think so. In my experience, language was not a barrier and I had many participants in Auroville who did not speak English but their participation was mutually satisfying. Willingness to participate and the desire to take value could overcome language issues. I doubt whether the students are really interested in taking value.
What I can guess is that the prevalent culture here is passive / passive-aggressive modes of communication. Another aspect could be diffidence which comes in the way of taking the risk of participation. When these are coupled together, a group could get into an inert state by using language as an ‘acceptable excuse’. Assuming that this is accurate, how to deal with it? Honestly, I don’t know.
My biggest loss from this event is that I did not accomplish the intention even with one participant. What I can learn from this experience is not to give up. I need to train myself to dynamically change the exercises or topic to elicit responses, without giving up. I give up giving up.
Going forward, I will avoid the pitfall of language issue combined with lack of interest. This could have some chance only if the time available is unlimited!