Have you ever felt more stupid than anyone else alive? (not counting Chaddha ji, of course). I recently did. At a social gathering, I found myself standing between two gentlemen who were behaving as if they are in a race to win some imaginary episode of ‘India’s most intellectual.’ They bragged ad nauseam about books, art, wine, cinema… and although each of these things I love and indulge liberally in, by the end of that discussion I felt like putting my fingers in the throat and choking myself.
I’m sure you know about the malaise of name-dropping. But these guys were indulging in heavy duty ‘knowledge dropping’…and God, is that stressful to handle or what? You feel as if you deserve to die because you did not read The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald while the whole world did and went into a collective orgasm, chanting ‘it’s a classic’. Let me tell you that it didn’t. Most people, including me, half way through hurled it as far as they could, because it seemed like the most boring book on planet Earth. I even harbour a secret theory that Fitzgerald himself could not finish writing the book because it was such a drag. But no one can tell because no one has managed to read it till the end. Anyhow, that topic is for another day.
This week’s column is for all of you who get knots in the stomach when those around you flaunt knowledge about things that sound as familiar to you as the child protection laws in Sierra Leone. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for being informed about the finer things in life, because it helps you grow as a knowledgeable individual in the society. But then there are more books and films in this world than human beings, so it is possible that you may not know about some stuff that gets discussed in cocktail parties and book launches. And that’s okay. But in case for some reason you can’t or don’t want to admit that you don’t know what someone is talking about, the mantra is — bluff away to glory.
See, I generally don’t advocate lying but if it’s your calmness at stake, let me give you three magic phrases you can use to get away from any tricky situation. And guess what, technically you won’t even be lying.
‘It depends’: If someone asks what you think of Wendi Doniger being harassed by fanatics and you don’t know if she’s an author or a stand-up comic because you’ve woken up after a two year long coma — narrow your eyes, shrug your shoulders and say ‘It depends’. Before they ask you ‘on what?’ excuse yourself to get another drink.
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‘Not recently’: ‘Have you read Macbeth?’ asks someone at a party, and it reminds you more of Mc Donalds than William Shakespeare? Say, ‘of course’ with a smirk, as if he is a big fool to have even doubted. Then add, ‘but not recently’, so that he can’t follow it up with something that you are expected to remember.
‘Quite a riot’: Confusing words that don’t really mean anything are a big blessing for those looking to excel in bluffing. This phrase, apart from sounding similar to the name of an American Heavy metal band, also comes in handy when someone wants to know what you think of the wine in your glass, or for that matter, the art work on the wall. While people get busy wondering if you are trying to praise… or criticize, slip away.
If all fails and you are stuck with a persistent moron out to call your bluff, try the time-tested trick that Old Farmer’s almanac suggests. Put some food into your mouth, point to your throat, start coughing and pretend as if it’s stuck in your throat. It will give you a reason to escape the room to fetch water, and all those who wanted to test your knowledge would have turned sympathetic when you get back. Try it. Never fails.
Sonal Kalra has never tried any of the above tricks to bluff her way through a conversation. She’s genuinely seeing a doctor to know why she chokes on her food ever so often. Follow her on Twitter @sonalkalra