Easy Listening to a Voice from Afar
The Berkeley listened last week to an Italian diplomatic interpreter who told us all about working face-to-face with the late Elizabeth II. Impressed as we were, having learned much, we had to conclude, nevertheless, that the Queen herself—her inner self—remained a mystery. This week, Ms Saloni Kyal, a young Indian, was invited to address us. She holds the degree of Master of Science in Computer Science & Engineering from the Politecnico of Milan where she also worked as a researcher. At present she is a Research Associate at the Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici (CMCC) in Lecce.
Climate is everywhere, India is immense, the EU extra-large, Argentina and Croatia of some size too. Ms Kyal’s projects have touched them all. Faced with the abundance of possible topics, she chose with admirable originality to tell us, quite simply, how she felt about herself and her personal situation. We were going to get closer to that inner self that the Queen kept secret for well-nigh a century.
Ms Kyal began in her native Kolkata, West Bengal. We were treated to powerful images of the means of transport available. For anyone who has experienced them, the effect was surreal. The wild symphony of noise that goes with them was missing. The volume was turned off. Ms Kyal was going to step back out of the tumult to take a cool view of herself.
What quickly became clear was how much one’s speaking about one’s self could tell us about everything else. Kolkata is the former Calcutta that has a special place in British gossipy history and soap operas about public school boys and dimmer sons of the upperclass going out to run a country of 250 million souls. In Ms Kyal’s portrayal of her city, we saw only one rather forlorn colonial building. What’s more, the British connection was not praised nor dispraised but simply ignored. The Raj was forgotten and thrives only in nostalgic B.B.C. serials. Indian youth, Ms Kyal showed, looked resolutely forward. Vive la jeunesse!
And yet there was the matter of language. From her curriculum vitae we had feared an onslaught of the cyber-space lingo that she surely masters. However, she spoke a fluid, precise and familiar English free of all jargon. The history of how that language got to her would be fascinating. Her enumeration of Indian languages had us reeling and made the West’s fussing over our linguistic squabbles appear small beer. This was echoed in Ms Kyal’s talk of minorities. She didn’t see them as a source of difficulty but of wonder and glory. Multiplicity and muchness was something she and her country prized.
The heart of her personal story was family. It wasn’t Freud’s “Family Romance” but something more positive and practical. It was the story of an only child born a girl in a land where larger families topped with boys are what most people desire. She spoke with refreshing frankness and some emotion of how this affected her relationship with her father. Her remarks on her larger family of friends and relatives made clear her strategy for righting the only-child and boy-girl imbalance .
Ms Kyal made a scruple of keeping away from the esoteric vocabulary of her profession. She couldn’t, however, keep her professional competence out of the brilliant organisation of her talk. She laid out complexity visually in such a colourful and clear way that it cried out to be understood.