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Just say mea culpa

Do you ever wonder what must be the most difficult thing to do? The Radia tape disclosures suggest an answer I find almost irresistible. Accepting you've made a mistake and apologising for it. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: May 21, 2011 22:46 IST
Karan Thapar

Do you ever wonder what must be the most difficult thing to do? The Radia tape disclosures suggest an answer I find almost irresistible. Accepting you've made a mistake and apologising for it. And if you have to do so on TV, knowing it will be repeated and replayed incessantly till everyone has seen and talked about it, then, surely, it becomes yet more difficult.

The problem is pride and ego. At the best of times saying sorry is never easy. Which is why apologising in public is almost impossible. So now imagine how you would fare if you are asked to face up to your mistakes in a TV interview, where the anchor controls the agenda and you know you'll be closely, even relentlessly, questioned.

I know of very few people who would willingly do this. This isn't to deny the fact it makes sense to do so and will, almost inevitably, win sympathy and retrieve the situation. It may be an obvious step but it still remains enormously difficult. Saying sorry is never easy.

Yet that is exactly what Tarun Das did last Sunday. After reading about his loose-tongued gossip and indiscrete observations, I wrote to ask if he would agree to an interview to present his defence or, at least, his explanation. He immediately agreed. That was the first surprise.

The interview was recorded four days later. I thought Das might wriggle out of the agreement. Or simply not show up. But, again, I was mistaken. He stood by his commitment and on the day appeared ahead of time.

No doubt he was nervous. Who wouldn't be? But he was determined to go through with it. "I've been foolish, indiscreet, silly," he said before the cameras rolled, "but, I know I'm honest. Which is why I can face up to whatever you ask."

In the interview Das was brutally honest. "Have you been a bloody fool?" I asked. "More than a bloody fool," he disarmingly replied. He said he was deeply embarrassed. He said he'd made his family suffer. He was close to tears. And he apologised profusely.

His explanation was simple. He had indulged in loose, speculative conversations. In gossip. He had said things he didn't mean and weren't intended to be known. And he had said things that were untrue, even perhaps knowingly.

To me this explanation seemed convincing. After all, the truth is we all say silly things when our guard is down and we're gossiping. Such conversations develop a momentum of their own. And we would all be embarrassed if they became public. Certainly I would be.

The critical issue was did Das lobby for Kamal Nath, A Raja and even Sunil Arora? On the tapes he agrees to do so. On camera Das said he had not. What he had said on the tapes was a way of getting out of an awkward conversation without upsetting the other party.

I know I've behaved similarly and not just occasionally. Quite frankly, we all have. And we consider this white lies. They're only embarrassing when they're found out.

This, of course, is also the line taken by the high profile journalists caught on the same tapes. The difference is they didn't accept they'd been fools. They didn't accept they had made mistakes. They didn't apologise. Alas, they couldn't bring themselves to say sorry.

Das did and many, if not most of us, are ready to forgive him.

The views expressed by the author are personal.