We all are vulnerable to faux pas. But what leads to such oversights? Could it be ageing or just a bad day? We don’t know. But certain memorable ones, especially made by leaders of international and national repute, make for interesting stories.
Believe it or not, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once handed over an empty envelope to Lord Mountbatten, the last governor general of British India. The packet was supposed contain the names of those who were to be sworn in as ministers of independent India’s first cabinet!
In the mid-1960s, the hot topic of discussion in diplomatic circles was the secession of the African province of Katanga in Congo. President Mobutu Sese Seko staked his claim to Katanga. But in cocktail circuits, American diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith found inebriated diplomats often describing Katanga as the man and Mobutu as the province.
Krishna Menon, India’s most valuable speaker in the United Nations, made history when he spoke for eight hours at the Security Council defending India's position on Kashmir. He reportedly would take sleeping pills at night to induce sleep and ‘wake-up’ pills to stay awake during the day at the United Nations. Once, he took the wrong pills and the result made international news.
Sometimes even our venerable and serious judges also fall prey to such errors of the mind. And sometimes they take such memory lapses too seriously. Once a judge of the Bangalore high court, who we will not name, took a wrong turn at the traffic signal while driving to his workplace. But instead of finding the right way to the court complex, he returned home and resigned from his post.
More on lawyers: a celebrated advocate once forgot his client’s name and started arguing in favour of the accused. While everyone in the court was trying to figure out what had happened, the advocate was not one to be caught on the wrong foot. He displayed stupendous presence of mind and told the judge: “My Lord, I was putting up the likely defence of the accused before arguing for my client against these possible attacks.” Have you ever heard a better cover-up by a lawyer than this one?
PC Sharma is a member of the National Human Rights Commission and former director of the Central
Bureau of Investigation. The views expressed by the author are personal