Andy Warhol (or was it Oprah Winfrey?) decided that every man would have his 15 minutes of fame. In today’s fast paced world, this time window has reduced to anywhere from 30 sec to 1 minute, during which we are expected to act, react and respond. Quite a task.
Today morning, I saved a middle aged man from certain death by traffic. He was about to step out in front of a speeding bus when I grabbed hold of his hand and pulled him back. It was an instinctive reaction on my part, and while I was more shocked by the incident than he was, I was better at covering up my shakes. He thanked me profusely, and smiled expectantly at me while he waited for me to respond. Maybe my shakes hadn’t yet subsided; maybe I was too pumped up from the adrenalin. Whatever be the reason, the only thing I could blurt out was, “Myeh”.
Which got me thinking. Here I was, standing smack in the middle of a situation which may occur perhaps once in a lifetime (unless you are a fireman or Robert Pattinson). And all I could think of saying was “Myeh”. Not very creative, you could say. Compare this with Congress Gen. Sec. Digvijay Singh, who, after the July 13 Mumbai blasts, responded by saying “We are comparatively better than Pakistan where blasts take place every day, every week”. Very colorful and extremely thought provoking.My response pales in comparison to such brilliance.
Anyway, it could be that the lack of a classical education is handicapping our cognitive abilities. Our ancients were much better than us in the art of verbal stroke play. The story goes that in 1843, after annexing the Indian province of Sind, British General Sir Charles Napier sent home a one word telegram, “Peccavi” implying “I have Sind.” Although apocryphal, it’s still a great story. The famous English Admiral Horatio Nelson’s point of zenith was the battle of Trafalgar, in which he won the battle and lost his life. As he lay dying, he is said to have demanded, “Kiss me Hardy”. This was directed to the captain of HMS Victory, Thomas Hardy. Hardy obliged, and Nelson immediately said, “Thank God, I have done my duty” before passing away. Hardy’s technique must have been enviable.
During World War II, we had Gen. Oliver P. Smith. He is most noted for commanding the 1st Marine Division during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where he said “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating; we’re just advancing in a different direction.” Exactly what Rupert Murdoch would have liked to have said last week, I’m sure.
I could never think up such spontaneously brilliant ripostes, however hard I tried. Most of us might have heard of what J. Robert Oppenheimer said after witnessing the first nuclear test at Los Alamos desert (he did take some time, but in the end he quoted the Bhagwad Gita. So I guess we can excuse him the momentary lapse of concentration). What many of us may not have heard of is the then test director Kenneth Bainbridge’s comment after seeing the test. The poor guy could only think of saying, “Now we are all sons of bitches”. He would have sensed a kindred spirit in me.