By Kieran Micka-Maloy
“Vannakam! Yen peyar Kieran. Naan America yerinduh varen. Naan urban planning padikkiren.”
And thus began my final presentation to the Tamil speaking community members gathered at Keystone. My partner, Prasath, was in Bangalore taking an entrance exam, so I was giving my presentation with the help of Shanmitha. The day before had been the English-language presentation. Despite all of the nerves associated with giving the presentation for the first time the day before, for some reason I was more nervous for this one. Maybe it was the fact that I was the only Cornell student speaking today, or more likely it was the fact that the people in the audience today were the ones for whom my research actually mattered. Not only that, but they were also the ones who lived with gaur on an every-day basis, and who would know if I said something wrong. And it didn’t help that a few sentences into my presentation I saw Neema stand up and furiously gesture for me to take my hands out of my pockets (which I promised I wouldn’t do half an hour before the presentation started. I was nervous!!).
So I went through my presentation, stopping every few sentences to allow Shanmitha to translate. I looked out at the crowd to see if they were taking it well, but couldn’t read a clear response. When I was just getting into the meat of my presentation, I heard a voice from the side cut me off.
“OK wrap it up.”
“Huh? I thought I was supposed to go through the whole thing?”
“I gave you a few extra minutes for translation, but we’ve gotta keep moving.”
“Oh… OK. Well that was a good place to wrap it up I guess. Thanks everyone.”
And that was the end of my Tamil presentation.
At first I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to get everything across that I had wanted to. But then the audience feedback started. While the previous day’s feedback had come from people entirely removed from the problem I was researching, and mostly focused on methodology, this was different. One man told me that I needed to rethink why gaur are moving from forests into cities. Another woman asked about the Forest Department’s role in the problem. From these initial comments, other people brought up points, building off of each other. For a few minutes, community members engaged in a conversation, including me but mostly amongst themselves, that sprung out of the research I spent my semester doing. Many people listening were far more knowledgeable about gaur than I was, having lived with the animals for their whole lives. My presentation, even though I had not been able to finish it, had organized and presented knowledge about gaur in a new way, even if most people knew a lot of what I was saying already. In doing this, it sparked a fruitful discussion amongst the community members. My disappointment melted away, and I realized that my presentation had done about all it could be expected to do, given that the real experts were sitting in the audience.