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The joker in the pack

There's nothing I like more than a clever way with words. I don't mean a smart alec reply but wit and a little twist in the tail, Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Jun 16, 2012 22:51 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times

There's nothing I like more than a clever way with words. I don't mean a smart alec reply but wit and a little twist in the tail. It requires succinctness of expression and a clear focus on the point you want to make. And, without doubt, some of us are better at it than others.

But guess who turns out to be a master of this art? Mae West! "When I'm good I'm very, very good", she once said and then added "but when I'm bad I'm better." Confessing to her much-talked-of lifestyle, she admitted "I've been in more laps than a napkin." And, with a knowing wink, she always guessed what a man's intentions were. "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you happy to see me?" is one of her often quoted questions. However, my favourite is "Give a man a free hand and you'll know where to find them."

If West had a rival, it was possibly Marilyn Monroe. Accused of having been caught naked, Monroe replied: "It's not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on."

Usually, though, it's politicians who are best at playing with words. I guess it's their stock-in-trade. And it doesn't matter whether they're capitalists or communists. "Politicians are the same all over," Nikita Khrushchev once said. "They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river." Teddy Roosevelt was, if anything, as honest. "When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become president; I'm beginning to believe it." And there can't be many who would disagree with Charles de Gaulle: "I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians."

Now, if your despair at the way conditions are deteriorating at home has made you think our politicians are the pits and there can't be worse, here's an assortment of comments from the greatest democracy of them all, America, plucked over a wide span of time, that proves they're the same the world over. The bit that's uncanny is how what follows could easily be said of our 'netas'.

"A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country," said Andrew Carnegie of America in the 1870s. Years later, Mark Twain commented: "Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising each to protect him from the other." And even after another half century, it was much the same when Adlai Stevenson in the 1960s was forced to threaten "I offered my opponents a deal: 'If they stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about them'!"

John Quinton, the famous RAF pilot, was almost spot on when he said "Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel." After all, the worse things get the more we seem to depend on them.

Not surprisingly, it's Plato who speaks most meaningfully of our plight. "When those who are smart do not engage in politics" he forewarned, "they are punished by being governed by those who are dumb." But if you're not inclined to heed his wisdom, then ponder over the comedian Will Rogers' conclusion: "The problem with political jokes is that some of them go and get elected."

The question is who has the last laugh: us or them? The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Jun 16, 2012 22:48 IST