'The worthy Amartya Sen is a mutterer, and unless you're really concentrating, or know your stuff, you're going to make a fool of yourself, as I did,' remembers Kishore Singh.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Every once in a while, for fun -- and because I find it difficult to say no -- I find myself being manipulated into compèring an evening, or moderating a discussion, without having a clue what it's about.
Like the time I was supposed to keep the venerable Amartya Sen and a few other worthies on the straight and narrow of welfare economics without having a clue about what it meant.
On several occasions, I've managed to couch my ignorance with such clichés as, "Now, that's really interesting, what's your take on it?" before passing the mike to a panellist discreetly checking messages on his phone.
But in this case it was difficult to wing it because the worthy Dr Sen is a mutterer, and unless you're really concentrating, or know your stuff, you’re going to make a fool of yourself, as I did.
Ever since, I’ve managed to steer myself away from Nobel Laureates, taking the ignominious route of chickening out at the last moment by feigning illness, or conjuring up an emergency trip, which is a terrible thing to spring on anyone, but it's better than appearing a fool because you can't tell the difference between non-materialistic human welfare and multi-variate income models.
Mostly, I blame people who pin you to the hot spot because they couldn't find anyone better.
Maybe nobody else knows about capability deprivation, or enhancing matrices, either and they're looking to pass the buck till the end of the line where some fool will agree because, hey, it's three weeks later during which the world might end, or you might actually begin to understand the corelation between insufficient data and farm output.
Unfortunately, the days pass and inevitably you're stuck between a garrulous professor and a clinical analyst, so you nod in agreement, pass the mike and hope for the best.
I've always assumed no one's listening, because no one's pulled me up as an imposter yet, though that might still happen.
Mostly, though, I don't mind holding forth at social events where alcohol is served before rather than after the event. By the time you've rounded up the panellists, and someone has decided to make the introductions, everyone is so high, you could cuss and no one would notice.
Nobody listens to anybody on these occasions, and I've been known to drift off instead of concentrating on what a speaker is saying, because what wrong can you do when your co-panellist is describing how she came by a secret family recipe, or a fashion designer is recounting the amazing ability of the sari to reinvent itself for every generation, or how missing a flight was the lowest point of a socialite's life.
Actually, I'd much rather be on the dais on such occasions than in the audience because a glass or five of wine tends to make most people garrulous, or sleepy, and to hear them speak when you're captive on the sponsor's table with him nodding brightly because he's paid for the whole evening and wants to milk it for what it's worth, is abysmally boring.
Far better on the stage where you get to butt in with a silly joke, which you'll regret on the way home because your wife will tick you off for being gender-insensitive, or ill-informed, but which did win you a laugh or two from the front row.
As for the back of the room, well the bar's open, and it's the reason I said yes to moderating in the first place.