The thirty fifth annual conference of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mumbai was important to me. In this conference my contribution to PMR was appreciated. My contribution was a paper on adolescents with disability, which was not accepted as a paper but was relegated to a poster. But I should not grumble because I was duly honoured with a certificate and a memento for my poster presentation, which I never presented.
The sole physiatrist from the state of Tripura was also praised and clapped and a memento and certificate offered for his poster presentation, which he never presented either.
The solemn scientific conference was held in a posh hotel with the ambience of a gala marriage party and conversely, the banquet dinner with drinks and dances were held in the PMR institute, the seat of learning.
In January Mumbai is pleasantly warm and so we needed an artificially created chilling temperature to keep us comfortable in suits and ties.
The food was excellent—we had breakfast, mid session snacks and a hundred-course lunch. We knew it was costly and did not want to waste it and so we spent more time on lunch and tea than on the scientific sessions.
On the first day we had a gait lab demonstration. It was a mammoth organizational effort with some convincing lectures by senior professors. Sorry, there were no takers. There were few among the participants with the resource and inclination to set up a gait lab. But it was a good academic exercise. After all you could always take a short nap in the relaxing environment after a sumptuous meal. The more energetic took breaks for a quick shopping or a stroll on the beach.
The second day was D’ Day. The prime time was devoted to lecture by the sponsors. First there was the gold sponsor, then the silver sponsor, and then sorry, I dozed off, probably the copper sponsor and so on. All were hard-core metallic stuff—young, handsome, professional orators. Our young physiatrists listened spellbound—some grumbled though—why were sponsors given all the time, when they were sitting listening. You can’t help it boys, if you want a five star ambience.
The afternoon was devoted to the inauguration by the hon’ble minister, as has been the decade old custom. So we had these nice speeches nobody wanted to listen to and bouquet presentation and memento presentation and clapping and encores all over. This was the gala time for the organizers. They came to the spotlight, patted one another on the back and posed for the photographs. And then they gave mementos to one another and praised one another for the good deeds done. And then voila! Here was an encore. And then another! And at the end of all of it each of the organizers had basketfuls of the very same memento, but alas without any resale value.
The third day was the last day and the morning session was devoted to the guest speakers, but there was a race against time. So the originally allotted ten minutes per speaker was reduced to five with a rumour going strong that the most welcome would be those who winded up by three. The most applauded guest speaker came, read the title, followed it up with the conclusion and without further ado went off the stage amid thunderous claps. The chairperson was mighty pleased—he had a plane to catch.
The interesting lectures by young physiatrists, including the one that got the Hanumantha Rao award was held in the last session of the last day—the only problem was that there was hardly anybody in the audience, i.e. except the “owner of the mat”.
Can you recollect the story of the mat owner? There was this classical musical night and it was quite late when the famous sitarist started his rendition and there was this lone person in the audience. The fanatically dedicated sitarist decided to play anyway and started by addressing the lonesome audience, “you have stayed behind when everyone else has left and I will play only for you”. The loner mumbled in a tired drawl, “I can’t help it. The mat you and I are sitting on belongs to me”.
But lets be fair. Some of the judges were there. And there were those scanty few who had injudiciously made the travel arrangements the next day and were too tired to take another trip to the beach.
Isn’t it time for us to look back and review the whole tradition of conferences?