‘Let’s start with a silent prayer,’ announced the compere at a meeting and the hall livened up. With much scrapping of chairs and shuffling of feet, not to mention grunts and gasps, the audience got up, quite loath to abandon contact with their seats. The more generously endowed were unable to abandon contact, stuck as they were to their chairs as they rose and needed discreet help to be freed. The hall had barely fallen quiet when a lady’s handbag decided to pitch in with a loud prayer. Jolting everyone out of their piety, it broke into song in a piercing female voice praying for her lost love to come back. The owner dug her fingers frantically into her cacophonous bag, but couldn’t locate the mobile. That’s the charm of a lady’s handbag.
Its innumerable compartments have been cleverly crafted to convert every simple search into a complicated detective game. The puzzle regarding which section would yield the desired article is solved, like any good mystery, only when the intensive search is complete. Inevitably it is discovered in the last pouch examined. No woman can complain of boredom as long as she owns such a bag.
All eyes on her, the embarrassed lady decided to escape, hugging her handbag, and never returned. We could hear the plaintive love song fading in the distance. Lucky woman! I noticed the already flustered speaker direct an envious glance at her retreating back.
Someone coughed, another sneezed and as if in answer to some of the prayers, the compere asked everyone to be seated. More shuffling, scraping and sighs followed and when peace was restored, the speaker was welcomed.
The topic was physiotherapy, the speaker was too soft-spoken and the fans overhead, too loud. I strained my ears to listen to what the young, competent physiotherapist had to say on this interesting subject.
The vastness of the topic and the novelty of giving a speech in public made him jittery and he began to race through the definition and history of physiotherapy, mumbling earnestly into his shirt collar.
I gave up listening and looked around. The audience, mostly middle-aged or elderly, had probably been attracted by the topic which was very close to their hearts and their neuromusculoskeletal systems. But it was no different from an audience at any other meeting and had already begun adopting survival techniques.
Many, including the few young who had strayed in, were completely absorbed in playing with their mobile phones, reading or sending messages, watching videos or checking out the innumerable options a smart phone provides – it is a single-instrument entertainer.
Some had sunk into gentle slumber, some into deep sleep - one man almost fell off his chair.
A few looked plain bored, some annoyed, staring with hostility at the speaker, while a few others were obviously in another world.
Some conducted private conversations in stage whispers, others took calls when their phones rang, rudely loud, making life more stressful for the speaker, while a miniscule group in the front row was actually listening.
I tried to identify those who must have come with the express purpose of asking a question, or, in the guise of asking one, enumerate their achievements to the audience.
Eventually, the speaker buzzed to a close, wiping the sweat from his forehead. Poised for flight, he asked formally if there were any questions.
Imagine his shock when almost everyone, now miraculously revived, responded with eager nods of their heads, struggled to their feet and ambushed him!
The bewildered physiotherapist quickly got the picture - they had all come for a free consultation. An old man began to describe in halting detail his acute back pain that came and went. What should he do?
He was cut off midstream by an impatient lady. ‘I want to get rid of the swelling on my feet,’ she snapped, sticking them out as proof. Someone promptly trod on them to get closer to the physiotherapist and ask why he couldn’t bend his right knee fully. He demanded an immediate demo of the appropriate exercises to rectify that.
Another wanted to know if it was true that physiotherapy would assist people with asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. ‘If it is, please help me,’ he wheezed.
A young chap sounded outraged that he should have got tennis elbow after playing badminton and insisted on an explanation. I wanted to ask about exercises for my rotator cuff tear, but was pushed out of the reckoning. The real meeting had just begun.
A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series