Having found myself on the stage on several occasions in recent years, I've reached the conclusion that the view from up there is rather more entertaining.
While awaiting one's turn to address a gathering, it is best to while away one's time by sizing up the crowd. Listening to fellow speakers only leads to a great deal of ennui and little else.
For instance, when perched comfortably on stage for one seminar or the other, one can often spot motley acquaintances making their way to join the audience, either by choice or by compulsion. Many onlookers look utterly bored and appear as if they've been cut and pasted into the seminar from more enjoyable situations.
Some people give knowing looks from a distance, as if they are present only to express their solidarity. And they do not let up until they get a smile or a nod in acknowledgement. They then make their way to the exit at the soonest possible, their objective having been achieved, and their presence duly marked.
Family and friends of speakers have to stick on longer though, and must actually stay for the duration of our speeches, for they dare not do otherwise. Having heard one waxing eloquent on repetitive subjects year after year, their ears evidently enter the sleep mode automatically and their minds doubtlessly wander to more interesting realms of human endeavour.
At the recently held Literati event at the Lake Club in Chandigarh, I could spot from a corner of the stage several friends who had turned up in dark glasses and found a place to sit in the audience. Some of them looked suitably engrossed in the proceedings, especially at such times as when my comely companions on the dais were speaking. Others yawned unabashedly and kept peering intermittently in a direction that was more towards the ice-cream vendor than the stage.
At another forum some months ago, a fellow panellist decided to confide in me about his animosity for the man who was on the microphone at the time. They had been colleagues for years, you see, and couldn't stand the sight of each other. Thus, for the entire duration that his friend spoke, my poor ear had to put up with a whispered monologue about the other man's shortcomings, which were clearly many. Sensing that something was amiss, the speaker, once his turn was over, found my other ear a convenient sounding board to return the favour.
All this while I had to sit stone-faced before the audience and pretend that we were discussing something of national significance, while nodding gravely and trying to look respectable.
Feeling the need to unburden myself by either laughing out loud or by sharing my secret with someone, I took recourse to the latter alternative and texted a friend who sat in the second row about the goings-on.
Indeed, being on stage is quite a laughing matter at times, and certainly more enjoyable than being a part of the audience.