One day out of the blue 3 months ago, someone from Salem called me up and introduced himself as the Organizing Secretary (Scientific) of the up-coming State Conference at Yercaud and asked me about my willingness to conduct a workshop for the delegates, as he had been impressed by my speech at the last national conference. I immediately agreed and we brain-stormed a couple of topics before we agreed on Laser surgery as both apt and interesting for the theme of the conference. I mailed him my CV and Photo to be included in the program brochure and then I called up my friends to find out who was attending that particular conference and made plans for booking tickets and hotel stays together.
A month later I came back home to find that a brochure for the conference had arrived and opening it eagerly was confronted with the announcement of the workshop under the title which I had suggested but with the presenter printed as Dr.P.A…..WTF? I thought ….who is this guy? No one I knew had heard of him. the blurb under his name was exactly what they would have written for me too..everything fit me- except the name. I immediately called up the conference secretary and enquired. He apologized profusely, attributed it to a printing mistake and then assured me they would get it corrected in the next mailer.
One more month passed and I got the 2nd call for the conference and the name was still there staring at me. This time, a little pissed off, I called him up again and when I asked him pointblank, he told me that yes, my name had been removed by the central committee after much deliberation. And the reason he offered was that the central committee members had objected to me because I was from Chennai. They had accused the Chennai people of dominating all scientific programs in the state of tamilnadu and had decided to give a chance to someone from the southern part of the state- whether deserving or not- to encourage them. Completely disheartened by this blatant parochialism, I called up a close friend to commiserate and he informed me that as per his enquiries (from his secret sources) the person who had replaced me Dr.P.A. was a native of chennai, a very recent graduate of a private university in chennai with no records of any academic achievements and was simply there on the program because he was working as an assistant of the famous Dr.A of Chennai, man with much influence and a past bigshot of the association.
When I expressed my anger and indignation, pointing how Chennai is also a part of Tamil Nadu and this was downright insulting to intelligence and told my friend that I was going to drop off the conference, he counselled me to treat it as a jolly tour with friends- as all the arrangements had already been made and it would be difficult to change them all now for my sole benefit.
And this is how I landed up in Salem, the day before the workshop. When I had checked in at our rooms and was making the preliminary rounds of the conference venue, I was approached by the conference secretary who wanted a private word with me. When we were alone in the room- he told me that the workshop had generated tremendous interest, that over a hundred practioners had registered and some of the oldest graduates of Madras Medical college were there to learn about lasers and the organizers had arranged for a dozen patients with interesting conditions to be operated on the next day. So whats the hitch, I asked? The problem, he told me, was that the upstart who had replaced me having heard these details had taken funk and had failed to turn up citing an illness to his father.
I almost laughed out loud- serve him right- before I remembered the anxiety attacks I too face – everytime I go out on a big podium to talk to the stalwarts of my profession sitting below watching me keenly. And then the organizer asked me to fill in for the missing speaker. I declined immediately, saying I had no notes, no presentation, no laptop, nothing with me then. But in the back of my mind was the thought that my name was not there- the rest were all mere excuses. He asked me to reconsider and left. As I was pondering the question- my friends came up to the room and I shared the news with them. They were unanimous that I should not forget the insult to my dignity and refuse to co-operate.
I sat there for a long time thinking over things before I left the room, went down to the reception- asked the way to the nearest net center and once there downloaded 3 pictures of a TV/a remote/and a family watching tv, burnt it on a cd and left. the next morning I walked up to the organizer and indicated my willingness to fill the void left by our absent eminent speaker. even my close friends were astonished by my decision- but I offered no explanation to anyone.
I again had qualms when I entered the auditorium to see Dr.P.A.’s name plastered in big letters all over- announcing his condescension to deliver the speech. But better sense prevailed and I stuck to my decision. When the moderator announced me as a last minute replacement for the absent speaker(minus a family emergency), Iintroduced myself- ran my 3 slides onscreen and told the audience (filled with my gray-haired people who had flourishing practices before I was even born) that as you dont need to know who invented TV or how it works to enjoy watching it- similarly lets skip all the basic stuff about lasers and I will teach you to just use it. I mentioned wikipedia as a source if they wanted to educate themselves futher on the physics of lasers. And then I pointed to the TV remote and then said – as you know before the remote we had to get up and physically change the channel everytime we wanted to, but with the remote you can sit on the sofa with ease and do it in a relaxed way, simlarly, a laser is just a latest version of the scalpel and you can use it to cut tissue just like how used to do with a scalpel but with better comfort of the doctor. I proceeded to do 12 surgeries ( a mix of cases) in 3 hours without a break and walked out to everyones applause.
When I think back on it, I still dont understand why I did what I did. The other fellow had his name plastered in everyone single nook and corner of the state and yet failed to turn up. I did and went on to get them out of a mess, that they themselves had dug and still- I was just a face hidden under a mask. I got nothing out of it- except a small engraved memento- with a sticker hastily stuck on it to cover the underlying name. No name, no fame, no remuneration, nothing.
But still, I feel oddly pleased with myself. I dont understand why? Am I wrong? Am I a wimp and a push-over like my friends called me? then why do I feel so satisfied at having swallowed my Ego whole and burped?