Shooting the Breeze | The Indian Express

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Published: November 17, 2018 12:21:21 am





Donald Trump's summit no-show draws Asian nations closer together President Donald Trump speaks during a Diwali ceremonial lighting of the Diya in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday in Washington. AP/PTI

AFTER relinquishing the chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Friday Times editor Najam Sethi is coming back with Aap ke Saath, a political analysis programme on Pakistan’s AAP TV. The promo being aired is Bond-like and quite un-Sethi-like. Four hunters with shotguns fan out in search of game, and their dog flushes some kind of harmless bird, maybe an exceptionally large sparrow. All four fire, and one wings the bird. Talk about crap shooting!

The poor dog has to compensate for the inefficiency of the humans and runs to retrieve the bird. But in the meantime, an expensive-looking car drives up, the door opens and expensive-looking footwear hits the street. Its owner is revealed to be Sethi, and the harried bird, in the form of CGI artwork, perches on his shoulder. And Sethi says: “Main hoon na, Najam Sethi, aap ke saath.” Imran Khan is yet to react to this parabolically thrown gauntlet. And we must wait for Sethi’s wife Jugnu Mohsin, one of the most engaging satirists in our region, to write a spoof of the promo.

Another promo comes from ANI, where Smita Prakash interviewed Dassault CEO Eric Trappier. The verb ‘interviewed’ is an exaggeration, though. It was more like providing Trappier stage cues for corporate PR. The bit about how his engineers were excited to work with Indians was particularly rich, straight out of a press release. There were a couple of slightly pointed comments, like, “Reliance changed, the Indian prime minister and the French president changed, only Dassault remained a constant factor.” Trappier’s extraordinary response was not questioned further — that Dassault had chosen the Reliance group, or the family held together by the materfamilias, rather than a particular company.

The CEO of a company which has bagged a lucrative contract is scarcely likely to take up difficult issues. Especially a CEO who cannot tell a lie for the necessary and sufficient reason that CEOs do not lie. But of course, and corporate malfeasance happens only in the movies. The only interview worth doing for news was with François Hollande, who did the deal and raised a flag. Going to Dassault was just facilitating PR, and ANI did it quite well.

There’s bad PR, and then there’s absurd PR. On Wednesday, the partisan American Patriot and the Space Force News (which is ahead of its time) reported an “amazing” and ‘incredible” speech delivered by President Trump as he lit a diya for Diwali at the White House (major news organisations also headlined the event, but less ecstatically). These epithets were merited, but for reasons other than those which amazed these fringe news outlets.

Reading from a printed sheet, Trump initially identified Diwali as a Hindu festival. Several minutes later, he seemed to have lost the thread and said that it was a “very special holiday celebrated by Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs throughout the United States”. The word ‘Hindu’ was conspicuous by its absence. To deepen the gaffe, Trump tweeted that bit, minus a reference to Hindus. A hissing, spitting tweetstorm broke out, and a contrite Trump deleted his tweet and replaced it with another, but again forgot to mention Hindus. He got it right on the third try.

But perhaps he was not to blame, since the script he read from at the diya-lighting ceremony must have been written by someone else. Maybe someone of Indian origin, who would be presumed to be competent in South Asian cultural matters. Back in 1999, Prince Philip caused an international sensation by commenting on a fusebox with wires sticking out of it: “Must have been installed by an Indian.” Maybe we misjudged his candour.

The outbreak of irritation on social media missed another gaffe in the same speech, in which Trump acknowledged America’s debt to workers “of Indian and Southeast Asian heritage”. He said that twice, obviously meaning ‘South Asian heritage’, since he is unlikely to have the foggiest notion about the Chola empire in Southeast Asia. As he is innocent about the existence of South Asia.

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