The sound-bite hype


When he was introduced to a big wig Patel yesterday, all Prince Philip had said was: “There are a lot of your family about” in a good natured banter. Patel himself took no offence, said it was a joke. But the media? Ah, they went to town!

On such occasions, what is a luminary supposed to say to the entire line-up of people being introduced? “Nice weather we’re having”?

Interpreting his light-hearted remark as though the Duke of Edinburgh implied that all Patels are related, and taking offence, is all due to the media — in a fiercely competitive scenario — seeking sound-bites. Use a file picture of the poor guy, say he is racist and so on.

First of all, who is to say his words were reported accurately? He could have said, “there are a lot with your family name about”. That would not give the media the rope to hang him as it would only mean that Patel is a common surname in England.

Prince Philip knows India well, has visited often, played polo here and so on. During one such visit when our government chaps organised a visit to Ranthambore National Park for tiger spotting, he politely declined. He knew India enough to know that the tiger event would be stage managed and was reluctant to disturb India’s wildlife.

I was introduced to him in Mumbai in a line up of people active with World Wildlife Fund  He didn’t just say “how do you do” — he bantered as a personal touch of appreciation to each of us.  He asked me: “What do you do?” and I replied “I am a small businessman”.

I am as tall as him. Looking at my large, portly frame, he touched my shoulder and said “Not a very  small businessman”. That could have been interpreted as making offensive remarks, implying I was fat. But it was just a personal touch. His smile has remained in my memory.

There is this story about the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had to often shake hands with a long line up of people. Bored, he’d mumble something to each. Wearing a plastic smile, what he’d say was: “I murdered my grandmother this morning”. None of them noticed. All of them said things like: “It’s an honour to meet you, Mr President.”

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