The art of Terkology

  • Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: May 08, 2014 15:41 IST

I am sure all of you are aware about the Punjabi word ‘terkana’. However, what amazes me is the skill set behind it, as we use this trait in everyday life, ‘terkaoing’ some one or the other. The only difference is the degree — high, moderate or mild. Readers will also agree that Punjabis are one of the best ‘terkaoos’, with the Punjabi politician being the undisputed king.

Hang me if I’m wrong when I say, Punjab’s entire politics is based on this model, be it the government or the opposition. So this takes us to the basic question that is ‘terkana’ an art form or a science as mentioned earlier, or certain people are just born with this quality. Almost akin to a ‘guppi’.

Though ‘terkana’ is a unique word and no other word in any other language can compete with its Punjabi spirit, the nearest English equivalent I could find was, fob off. Fob off means, to put off with a trick, excuse or inferior substitute, which makes us wonder that who could be the craftiest fob off agent one has met.

You might need to shut your eyes for a moment and let your mind wander, but don’t be startled if the fingers start pointing towards you. Many top regional politicians and their media advisers reading this will know what I mean. My requests for interview on my TV show that I host, at times, is avoided with the choicest of ‘terkology’, even though they could simply get away by stating the truth. But habits die hard.

Having said this, the worst I have experienced was at the hands of US-based hotelier, Sant Singh Chatwal. He, after promising to host me during my New York leg of the tour, when I was writing my book Sikhs Unlimited (2005), conveniently excused himself, using the Bill Clinton alibi. I was left stranded and had to stay with a friend. Fobbing me is fine, but the problem lies when these high-profile people, especially the politicians, start applying it to the public.

Yes, the same public to whom the politician goes begging for votes. I know of so many leaders who have asked their personal assistants to tell early morning callers that sahib was doing ‘path’ (prayer). This works great as you have not only avoided the caller, but also created an impression of being a god-fearing person. My foot.

But what gives me the creeps is when these politicians fob off an entire nation or a state. Years of journalistic experience has made me realise that most of these commissions, probes, special investigation teams (SIT) that governments set up after catastrophic incidents are nothing but tools of ‘terkology’.

These are at most exercises to hoodwink the public, than fact-finding missions. You think the various probes into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were set up to fix the guilty? Even as I look at the various spokespersons of political parties on national television, I feel their job is nothing but to keep ‘terkaoing’ the anchor and the public. The better the communication skills, the better ‘terkologist’ you are. This is not to say that only the politician is best at it, as each one of us uses this ploy to get away from a situation or responsibility.

Look at our bureaucrats. If one were to believe their assistants, some bureaucrats can be in meetings for over 48 hours. So much of ‘terkology’ to avoid meeting the public. A friend of mine who works for a national TV has his mechanism of fobbing off people by saying, Delhi is calling.

And what about friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, business associates and spouses. Not getting into the debate about the last species, if a friend says Baiji, call you back in two minutes, you should know what has been applied to you. Be Punjabi by Nature and call him back, because ‘theeth’ (stubborn) is also a Punjabi character.

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