US President Joe Biden swears in presidential appointees in a virtual ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, after his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, January 20, 2021 (REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden swears in presidential appointees in a virtual ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, after his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, January 20, 2021 (REUTERS)

How I erred on Biden and Blinken

For a man who makes a career out of talking, I missed out on two God-given opportunities because I felt I had nothing to say. I met Biden in July 2013 in Delhi, but didn’t take sufficient interest in him. in 2015, i interviewed Antony Blinken, but failed to stay in touch
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 06:26 AM IST

I have to admit sometimes I am my own worst enemy. I turn my silly nose up at opportunities that others would grab with both hands. Well, as Joe Biden settles into the White House, I can’t but regret two that I foolishly threw away. Or, to be more honest, failed to capitalise on. Had I done so this might have been a very different column.

I met Biden in July 2013, but didn’t take sufficient interest in the man. At the time, he was Obama’s vice-president and visiting India. Hamid Ansari, our vice-president, hosted a dinner at Hyderabad House to which I was invited. For most people, this would have been an opportunity to get to know someone who was, at the time, just a heartbeat away from the American presidency. Foolishly, I had different ideas.

Shortly after I arrived, Ansari offered to introduce me to the American vice-president. But Biden was surrounded by people and I was hesitant largely because I wasn’t sure what to say. I had also spotted someone else among the guests and was keen to talk to him. Bizarrely, that took precedence. So, today, instead of being able to claim Joe and I are buddies, I’m the guy who wouldn’t go up and shake his hand. Everyone else did, but I stuck to the other end of the room chatting with another fool like me.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of my collection of sorry stories. In December 2015, I was offered an interview with Antony Blinken. At the time, he was Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. Today he’s Biden’s secretary of state. Fortunately, I didn’t say no. But, once again, I didn’t take Blinken as seriously as I should have.

It was a 30-minute interview and Blinken was truly engaging. Alas, I only realised that when I saw it again last week. Five years ago, it felt like another interview with an American official I would never meet again and probably never hear of as well.

Well, the conclusion I’m hinting at is obvious and I’m pretty certain you’ve already worked it out for yourself. Journalists often lack judgement. We aren’t talent-spotters — at least I’m not — and we often fail to sniff out who’s likely to rise to the top. Here were two occasions when good fortune was in my grasp but it slipped through my fingers. Worst of all, I wasn’t even aware that was happening.

Actually, my error with Blinken was even worse. He was in a tearing rush and I had stretched the interview way beyond the 20 minutes his minders had stipulated. I could see they were displeased. Blinken, on the other hand, seemed to have enjoyed it. I don’t remember his precise words but he was fairly emphatic in saying I should stay in touch. It sounded as if he meant it. But I never found out because I didn’t bother to make the effort.

So, once again, I can’t claim I know the new secretary of state. Our meeting was more like ships passing in the night. We went our different ways. As Longfellow, who coined the phrase in 1863, put it: “On the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”

Never have I regretted my silence more. For a man who makes a career out of talking, can go on interminably and interrupt others frequently, isn’t it odd that on two occasions, which I should have known would not repeat themselves, I missed out on God-given opportunities because I felt I had nothing to say? I guess that could be an appropriate sentiment to inscribe on my tombstone: “He was never short of a word except when it mattered. Then he was tongue-tied.” Ah well, if I get to meet Joe Biden and Antony Blinken again I’ll have a lot to say!

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story

The views expressed are personal

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