Thursday, December 01, 2011

Making friends. Or not.

Scum usually does rise to the top, often by sticking close to more solid stuff that floats.

I was in a little rowing boat, observing this phenomenon in a water body on the IIM Joka campus, when a half-brick splashed into the water a few feet away. A half-brick, not a pebble, not a stone. Two more followed. My friend and I were more concerned about getting brained than getting drenched, so we rapidly rowed to the other side of the pond. Got out, ran around to get the psychotic half-wit who was chucking the bricks. Of course, by the time our feet were on land again, the brick-chucker was a rapidly retreating blob in the middle distance.

That was in 1986. I still don’t know WHY he threw those bricks at us. It’s quite possible even HE didn’t know. (Incidentally, his hair was not so curly then. But the rest of him was about the same shape as it is now.)

Cut to 31st December 2002 (or was it 2003?). Calcutta had a new hotel and they’d thrown a party for the formal launch. I walked in late (as usual) and went to get a Coke for my wife. As I turned from the bar I saw … you know how some memories stay with you visually, like a freeze-frame? This was one of those moments, a mental photograph that has stayed with me. What I saw was this - about twenty feet away, the man-with-friends was keeling over to one side, one hand pressed to his jaw, obviously the effect of a close encounter with somebody’s fist. I confess I was actually happy that the guy had got his come-uppance (college hates tend to stay with you, don’t they?). I called to my wife – “***** **** just got punched in the face!”

Five COMPLETE strangers in the vicinity turned towards me and practically chorused – “WHO is the guy who punched him?! I want to get him a drink!”

Obviously the man-with-friends was as popular as he had been in our college days.


So Mihir Sharma has spent a lot of time going through this awesome self-help (?) book, then dissected it in some detail, and even published the resulting article in “Caravan”. The article has almost “gone viral” on the Interwebs - it’s trended on Twitter, been discussed on Facebook, inspired blog-posts, telephone conversations, reminiscences (yes, I KNOW this post is in the same category!). In the process, it has ensured wide publicity for a book written by a man who believes that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Sort of winning a battle and losing a war, surely?

Why bother spending so much time on a person whom you obviously dislike, Mr. Sharma? You’re just giving him the kind of importance HE thinks he deserves. A self-defeating exercise. You’re surprised that he’s made a lot of money by sucking up to the right people? You still wonder at the levels of hypocrisy that famous people are capable of? You find it worthy of comment that people put up with each other in hopes of making money? You secretly believe that our public figures are the spiritual descendants of MK Gandhi, Gautama Buddha and the Good Samaritan? You were on an extended holiday to Mars when the Radia tapes became news?

Lose your naivete, Mr. Sharma. Your diatribe is not going to make an iota of difference to this man everybody seems to hate (whether secretly or openly). People associate with him despite being told he is shallow, scheming, sociopathic, sycophantic (selectively?), grating and utterly obnoxious. Unless you can establish that associating with him will cause financial loss or imprisonment, a donkey’s amours will have more value to his associates than your article ever will.

Consider this. When, some years ago, IIPM was being generally loveable and altruistic to Rashmi Bansal and Gaurav Sabnis, I spoke to the head honchos of both the major English newspapers in Calcutta about the reality behind IIPM’s claims (e.g. Stiglitz as visiting faculty). They nodded gravely, looked uneasy, then wandered away. The mainstream media never published the data that emerged, they mentioned the issue only in passing. Very strange. Of course, the fact that IIPM were India’s biggest advertisers in print media during those months of July and August was completely irrelevant.

So wisen up, Mr. Sharma. You are an alumnus of a university that (creditably) states openly that one of the biggest gains from studying there is the social network. Yet you’re surprised that the object of your dislike has succeeded through networking? You will notice that I have not named the man here; I don’t want to face a civil suit filed in Dimapur or Jammu. I’m playing safe, while you have the guts to call a spade a bloody shovel several times over. All credit to Caravan and to you for your honesty in publishing an article that could invite retribution. But sadly, your article won’t make any difference to its subject. He will still be available as a motor-mouth to make up the numbers for TV “debates”. He will remain on contract for an incredibly insensitive and stupid weekly agony column. He will still be famous for being famous. And he will still make oodles of money as a front-man and lobbyist. So what’s the point?

Please get a life, Mr. Sharma. Don’t waste your intellect and talent on stupid trivialities. And oh - do try and write shorter sentences. It would make your point of view so much clearer to non-intellectuals like me.