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A dead giveaway

It is a fact that sometimes, a public figure’s last words are tweaked or cooked up to fit the popular image of the person.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2008 22:54 IST

The dead usually throw up more interesting points for debate than the living. Take the ongoing quibble about whether Mahatma Gandhi’s dying words uttered after being shot by Nathuram Godse were ‘Ram, Ram’ — as recorded by the FIR registered after the assassination — or ‘Hey Ram’ as made iconic and cast in stone at Rajghat. It is a fact that sometimes, a public figure’s last words are tweaked or cooked up to fit the popular image of the person. It would have been rather banal, for instance, if Bapu had uttered a single 'Oh!' or no word at all when he died. But that would have hardly satisfied us.

Can you imagine Humphrey Bogart not having said, "I should have never switched from Scotch to Martinis," on his deathbed? Or the ironic, Byronic last line of Lord Byron not being, "Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight”? There have been official disappointments though. Winston Churchill was expected to make a heroic ‘blood, sweat and tears’ kind of last speech before going into a coma that would find him resting with Adolf Hitler nine days later. But instead, Churchill said, “I’m bored with it all,” a punk credo that would have suited Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious much better. Some dying lines are downright boring. Charles Darwin should have come up with something more evolutionary instead of the slightly maudlin: “I am not the least afraid to die.” Far better — dying up to expectations — was Oscar Wilde: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”

Considering that not too many people are always taking notes and cross-checking even when a famous person pops it, it’s rather remarkable that we have so many last lines to savour. As for Gandhiji, we’re putting our bets on ‘Hey Ram’. Why change something that works?