In my college days, my mother, a writer, and my actress sister would regularly be asked for quotes for some newspaper article or other. Almost invariably, a mangled version of what they’d said would appear in print, leaving them fuming. They’re still generous with quotes, but I decided early on not to get into that charade. Nobody is too unimportant to be misquoted, I told myself.
At some point, I began to be asked for my views about contemporary art. I’d try and compensate for refusing to speak on record by providing background information about the subject, or pointing to published writing of mine that could be used in the context. Finally, last month, figuring my lecture on masculinity could do with some publicity, I agreed to an email interview for Time Out. The writer accepted my condition about carrying answers without alteration.
Emboldened by that experience, I wondered if I hadn’t been too absolute about the issue. After all, I’ve written dozens of pieces which wouldn’t have been possible without the co-operation of people willing to be quoted. So I provided written quotes for three different articles in the course of a week. The first appeared in the Times of India’s Crest edition a few days ago. The question posed by Saloni Doshi was, "Do you feel that many of our galleries have taken the role of a museum in terms of delivering museum quality shows or retrospectives etc?" I answered: "When private galleries have mounted retrospectives or memorable group shows, it has usually been within a museum like the NGMA. The Bhupen Khakhar retrospective and Chemould gallery's 40th anniversary show come to mind. I have seen few museum quality shows within the limited space of a private gallery."
The published version reads, “I have seen a few museum quality shows (in Mumbai) within the limited space of a private gallery — the Bhupen Khakhar retrospective and Chemould’s 40th anniversary are the few that come to mind,” comments art critic Girish Shahane".
The added ‘a’ entirely changes the meaning of what I’d written. Now I’m rethinking the whole speaking on record stuff. I’ll wait for the other two pieces to be published before deciding whether to crawl back into quote hibernation.
Although this is the first quote I have provided for publication, it isn’t the first to have appeared in print. Two years ago, a guy named Rahul Jayaram quoted me in an article about a Dante manuscript in Bombay’s Asiatic Library. Only problem was, I had never met or spoken to Rahul Jayaram in my life. He probably thought he’d get away because the article was printed in Calcutta’s Telegraph newspaper; he hadn’t reckoned with Google Alerts.
I tracked him down, and he apologised, but the article remains online, with this quote by me, which is entirely nonsensical in the context: Art critic Girish Shahane concurs. “An abstract artist like Harold Shapinsky was discovered by literature professor Akumal Ramachander when the latter visited his house in New York in the 1980s. Shapinsky was unheard of then,” he says.
As far as I can tell, the British expert quoted throughout the article doesn't exist. In which case, why couldn't Rahul Jayaram make up a fictitious art critic as well? Why me? And why Harold Shapinsky? There are a number of things I will go a lifetime without understanding, and this is one of them.