Who doesn’t like a little public recognition or to be the centre of attention? I certainly do. To be honest, it makes my old heart smile! But there can also be occasions when it can embarrassingly backfire. When that happens, you just don’t know what to do.
This was my predicament last month in Jaipur. I was a guest at Avinash Kalla’s Talk Journalism conclave where hundreds of young students were present. Afterwards they came up in scores seeking autographs and selfies.
This degree of attention was certainly heart-warming until curiosity got the better of the kids. “What’s your name, Sir?” said one of the more eager ones as he raised his left hand to click a selfie. “And what do you do Sir?” said a young girl just behind him.
Clearly they hadn’t the faintest idea who I was. They had seen a group of their colleagues moving towards me and simply tagged along. Swept up by the excitement they were clicking selfies and grabbing autographs without a clear idea who the person was or why they wanted to be photographed with him.
In the ensuing melee scraps of paper were thrust at me for autographs. Some were torn from notebooks, others were bits of paper napkins and there was even a crumpled page of an old newspaper.
I didn’t have the heart to refuse but I knew the autographs wouldn’t last for very long. “What’s the point of this?” I eventually asked. “It’s fun Sir”, was the prompt reply. “Everyone else has got one so I want one too!!”
Last month I discovered similar things have happened to other people as well. Shekhar Gupta told me how once a waiter mistook him for Prabhu Chawla. Since the man was full of praise Shekhar smiled and allowed the error to pass uncorrected. Moments later he was asked for an autograph. Now he had no option but to sign Prabhu Chawla. Later, the restaurant manager, who recognised Shekhar, came up and questioned why he was pretending to be someone else. I can never forget my first heady experience of public recognition. It was in 1982 and I had just begun working for London Weekend Television. Nisha and I were at an Indian wedding when suddenly someone began walking in my direction. I shall deliberately describe him as short, fat, dark and ugly and you’ll soon realise why. Within moments he was standing in front of me.
“You are Karan Thapar, aren’t you?” he said.
Nisha dug me in the ribs and whispered I should deny it. Instead I puffed up with pride. There was no need to say yes. The answer was obvious.
“On screen you look tall and handsome,” the man said. “But actually you’re short and ugly.” With that, he turned on his heels and disappeared.
The truth is this is the sort of embarrassment one likes to recount. And that’s because it’s a crafty way of seeking attention. You make yourself the butt of jokes and this time, when people laugh, they’re laughing with you.
However, think for a moment of the autograph-hunter or selfie-seeker. They meant no offence nor did they intend to embarrass. They were just swept up by the atmosphere around them. But it’s the impact of what they did that’s truly important. With one little request they both placed me on a pedestal and then brought me crashing down. And that’s quite a feat. It left me feeling like Humpty Dumpty!
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