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Sunday Sentiments

  • The boot, my friends, is on the other foot!

    Posted On July 24, 2000

    By Karan Thapar

    Have you ever been in the uncomfortable position of having your views deliberately and maliciously distorted to create a completely erroneous impression of what you actually said? And have you then discovered how fast and how wide chinese whispers can carry this falsehood? In such circumstances, lies travel farther than the truth.

    I realised this when I met Jairam Ramesh last week. He was a guest at one of my programmes and he walked in with a big smile on his face.

    “Hey” he suddenly said with a twinkle in his eyes. “What’s all this you’ve been saying in conferences about Kashmir?”

    “Huh” I replied. Honestly, I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.

    “I gather you’ve declared that Kashmir is Pakistani and that India should hand it over.”

    “What!”

    “Yes, you apparently said this at a seminar where Arun Jaitley was present and you brought the Pakistan High Commissioner’s daughters along with you for support.”

    Suddenly the rupee dropped. Jairam was referring to a seminar organised by Suhel Seth (a friend) at the Habitat Centre on the 19th of May. In addition to Arun and myself the participants included Mehbooba Mufti, Prem Shankar Jha and Shujaat Bukhari of The Hindu. Rajdeep Sardesai was in the chair.

    The object of the seminar was to discuss solutions to the situation in Kashmir. Now I’m not an expert on the subject and I was uncertain of what to say. As I drove to the Centre it occurred to me that I should start by accepting this fact. And then it dawned that perhaps there were other facts that had to be accepted as well. Otherwise, a solution would not be possible. These are facts that have been brushed aside. The longer we deny them the longer we prevent our quest for a solution proceeding down potentially successful tracks.

    So what are these facts? Well, they are the substance of what I spoke about. The first is that the people of Kashmir feel a sense of hurt, a grievance and even alienation. If we cannot acknowledge this they, in turn, will never feel their emotions are understood leave aside shared. The second is that this alienation has been largely caused by us – may be unwittingly but nonetheless we are substantially to blame. The events of 1984, when Farooq was bundled out of office at midnight, is just one if perhaps the worst example. The rigged elections, the broken promises, the deceit and slights are far too many to mention but not hard to identify. The third fact is that whatever our governments may say (and they’ve all said it regardless of their complexion) Kashmir is the real dispute between India and Pakistan. Whether you wish to call it the core dispute or the central issue is ultimately a matter of terminology. But ask anyone at a dhaba or a paanwalla’s what he or she thinks is the problem between India and Pakistan and the answer is bound to be Kashmir. The fourth fact is that just as we in India are convinced of our case and hold it with passion so too are they in Pakistan convinced of their’s and equally emotional about it. I was not comparing between the two nor was I suggesting that one was better than the other but simply stating the obvious : they believe they have a right to Kashmir just as much as we are convinced that legitimacy and legality are wholly and irrefutably on our side. The fifth fact is that we have to sort out this issue by talking to Pakistan. Of course, there is need for dialogue between Delhi and Srinagar and there is no doubt that cross-border terrorism has to be tackled and that Pakistan is heavily involved in it but still, but still, but still ….. we have to talk to Pakistan. We cannot wish that away.

    Now, tell me, what is so hair-raising about any of that? In fact, were you to say that I’ve only stated the obvious and that behind the guise of trying to be profound I’ve been mundane then, perhaps, I would have to plead guilty. But to claim that any of this, in any way, under any interpretation, could amount to handing Kashmir over to Pakistan is not just bizarre, it’s simply impossible to comprehend. Yet that’s precisely what Jairam was talking about. Someone – he didn’t say whom but perhaps there were several of them – had told him just this.

    The irony is that if we cannot accept these obvious facts we may well be in danger of handing over Kashmir to Pakistan. But will my faceless critics pause to consider that?

    P.S.: As regards the Pakistan High Commissioner’s daughters, we met in the lobby outside the seminar hall and walked in together. So what? I happen to know them extremely well. Their mother has been a friend since I was six. That’s 38 years. They haven’t influenced my views nor I, sadly, theirs. But give me time!

    How to win in style

    Are you hooked to Crorepati? Whenever I’m home I can’t resist switching on although thereafter my attention often wanders. What makes the show compelling is greed. The audience’s greed to join in and the participant’s greed to win more. Yet by definition that can only happen if the stakes are really high. When the fun fizzles out at three lakhs pity and disappointment are the remaining emotions.

    So how often does someone hit the jackpot? I’m told in the three years the programme (Who wants to be a millionaire?) has run in England not a single person has won a full million. In America its only happened twice.

    Just how big a moment of TV entertainment that must be is not hard to imagine. However, there is a story about one of the American winners that bears repetition. I can’t swear to its authenticity but even an apocryphal anecdote is sometimes worthy of re-telling.

    On a particular occasion a cocky but fearfully intelligent Princeton undergraduate happened to be sitting in the contestant’s chair. As the questions got underway it became apparent he knew them all. Every time the presenter smiled, paused and tried to create doubt the Princetonian impatiently dismissed his unsuccessful attempts.

    “Of course I’m right” he would hastily interrupt the presenter’s smooth flow.

    “You’re sure?”

    “Yes, I’m sure. Now, please, lets move on.”

    “And that’s your final answer?”

    “Yes, that’s my final answer. Now, please get on with it. You’re only wasting everyone’s time.”

    Each time the Princetonian was right. As the audience applause grew louder the presenter’s smirk grew bigger. The fun comes from trying to trip them up and this kid was refusing to stumble. In fact, he wasn’t just walking away with it he was positively sprinting to the finishing post.

    Then, at 500,000 dollars and just one question away from a million it happened. I can’t remember what the question was but the Princetonian appeared to falter. He smiled. He looked beseechingly at the anchor. He cupped his chin in his hands and stared ahead.

    “Ah” said the presenter, the smile returning to his face. “You don’t seem to know this one. Don’t worry, just take your time.”

    The Princetonian smiled a little more but weakly. His appearance seemed to suggest helplessness and a sudden loss of confidence. Everyone had that awful sinking feeling that comes just before a fall.

    “You still have three life lines” said the presenter, his voice as soothing as it was unnerving. “Why don’t you use one of them?”

    The Princetonian chose to ring his father. The presenter put through the call. The kid’s dad answered. After the usual caution that they only had thirty seconds it was the undergraduate’s turn to speak.

    “Hi Dad” he began.“What are you doing?”

    “Sitting in the lounge, son.”

    “And where’s Mom?”

    “She’s here too.”

    The clock in the studio showed that fifteen seconds had lapsed. Time was running out but the young man had not even started to ask the question.

    “For Heaven’s sake” the presenter interrupted. “You’re running out of time. What are you doing?”

    “Dad” the kid resumed and a broad smile spread across his face. “I know the answer. In ten seconds I’m going to be a millionaire. I called so that you should be the first to know.”

    Now, if that’s not a deserving winner I don’t know how you can ever identify one.


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