Saturday, March 11, 2006


The art of showing off


KHUSHWANT SINGHIF you want to be the centre of attraction at any party, you must teach yourself the art of showing off. There are a few rules you have to abide by. First and foremost is never talk about yourself. Most Indians, particularly those who have a few achievements to their credit, talk of nothing besides themselves. No one is interested in hearing what you say and regard you as a crashing bore.

If you canít help talking about yourself, then donít blow your own trumpet but make fun of yourself. At some time or the other, all of us make fools of ourselves. Tell them how you came to make an ass of yourself. They will love hearing what you have to say because everyone loves a fool and will join you in laughter.

Second, memorise some jokes, anecdotes, lines of poetry quotations which come in handy when deadly silences descend on the party. They should not be stock jokes taken from American or English joke books about mothers-in-law, lawyers, blondes or simpletons but manufactured by you. Avoid ethnic jokes about Sardarjis, Mianbhais, Marwaris, Bawajis lest you offend someone in the party. There are plenty of other subjects you can turn into laughter material.

I speak from experience because I tried out my tricks in Washington some years ago when I had a three-month stipend from the Wilson Centre to update my two-volume History of the Sikhs. At the first welcome party given by an old friend Carol Leise (later Mrs Chester Bowles), I was introduced to Senator Fulbright and a few eminent Washingtonians. I hit it off very well. Thereafter, I was invited by many of them as a sort of court jester who could keep a party going. I often took my niece Gita Chanda, who was living in Washington with me. I had a headstart. Since I looked different with my dark skin, beard and turban and spoke in a British rather than the American accent, I was regarded as a curio. Gita had to suffer listening to the same witticisms, wisecracks and anecdotes over and over again. She had the last laugh. When I was leaving Washington to return home, she gave me a farewell present. It was a porcelain coffee mug with the message written in large letters on its outside. It read: "If you canít dazzle them with your wit, bamboozle them with your bullshit." Make it your motto and you will be the star performer at every party.

M. Krishnan

Recently, there has been noticeable revival of interest in Indiaís wildlife. Valmik Thapar came out with a couple of books: Prerna Singh with a paperback on her adventures in tiger country. And now we have a commemoration volume in honour of the doyen of wildlife photographers and writers, M. Krishnan.

I used to look forward to reading his weekly columns on country life in The Statesman, illustrated by photographs taken by him. He also wrote for The Hindu under the pseudonym ĎXí and The Illustrated Weekly of India and perhaps for Tamil papers as well. His style of writing was very much like that of his contemporary Tamilian R.K. Narayan, in very simple language.

Krishnan was born in Tirunelveli in June 1912, the youngest of the eight children of Tamil Brahmin scholar A.Madhaviah. Krishnanís first love was Tamil, the second love for wild animals: at 11, he had a mongoose as a pet. He graduated from Presidency College, Madras, and also took a law degree. He had no interest in law and apart from eight years he spent in the service of Raja of Sandur (north Karnataka) the rest of his life was devoted to tracking in the jungles, taking black and white photographs of wild animals like elephants, leopards, tigers, monkeys, varieties of deer and squirrels, snakes and lizards. He developed them himself in his dark room. He lived with his wife, son and daughter-in-law in a wooden shack built at the back of the family house. He died in 1996.

The idea of producing a commemorative volume in honour of Krishnan was mooted by his admirers Ashish and Shanti Chandola assisted by T.N.A. Perumal. Krishnanís son and his family let them take what they liked from their collection and get Ramchandra Guha to write his profile: he has done so in his usual lucid matter-of-fact style. So we have a beautiful coffee tabler: M.Krishnan: Eve in the Jungle, Photographs & Writing (University Press, distributed by Orient Longmans).

When looking through Krishnanís notebooks Shanthi Chandola found some words in Latin pasted on all of them. They read Nil bastardum carborundum which means "Donít let the bastards grind you down." I am not sure whose legitimacy Krishnan was questioning but I guess he meant self-styled guardians of social norms who expected a Tamil Brahman like others of his ilk to earn his living as a lawyer, civil servant or a teacher and not waste his time loitering in jungles, taking pictures of animals. He ignored them and refused to let them grind him down. That is why his name will go down in history.

Q & A

Q: What is the difference between people who pray in temple/church/mosque and those who pray in casinos?

Ans: The ones in the casinos are really serious.

Q: What did the gangsterís son tell his dad when he failed his examination?

Ans: Dad, they questioned me for three hours but I never told them anything."

Q: When I was young I used to pray for a bike, then I realised that God doesnít work that way, so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness.

A: Little boy went to his father and asked,

"Dad, where did all of my intelligence come from?

His father replied, "Well, son, you must have got it from your mother, because I still have mine."

(Contributed by Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi)