Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quote, unquote, misquote

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.

34 comments:

Meenakshi said...

Girish, are you Renuka Shahane's brother? Wow.

seana said...

Hmm. And I thought this was just going on at the level of our local newspaper. I also thought people had tape recorders.

Oddly, although I think this is an incorrigable problem, I am not sure you should go back to your vow of silence.

Girish Shahane said...

Meenakshi, yes I am. Seana, I agree. At the very least there will be more blog entries to be had...

seana said...

Good. As long as there is some place where you can mention that an absent a does make a difference, I think you'll be okay.

As for the relations part, I don't want to steal your thunder, but that's pretty cool as well. If it wasn't for a very good article I read about Tocqueville today in the New Yorker on his ambivalent understanding of democracy and equality and its gradual trajectory, I would begin to mistrust my own temerity, not just here but elsewhere.

Mr. D said...

I can't help thinking that this might make for a great website (a la textsfromlastnight or bash).

Put the original quote, and then the misquote. I'm sure there are countless billions funny examples.

The adding an 'a' trick is quite something, though...

globalbabble said...

Do you think the missing 'a' was just bad grammar on her part?

In my deep dark past, there have been times when I did not take tape recorders to interviews and then tried to decipher notes. It is a bad idea. But Naresh beat that out of us, thankfully.

There is no excuse for The Telegraph guy though.

globalbabble said...

Besides, the Crest article itself was so stupid. It basically lists out the private-public initiative without delving into the politics/gains/losses of such arrangements.

Girish Shahane said...

Now, now, you should know better than to slag off someone who writes for the same paper you do.

Girish Shahane said...

I've had a few interview nightmares myself. I went to Berlin specifically to interview Jonathan Meese; missed my flight from London, was lucky enough to be put on the next one which got me to Berlin on time. Then was unsure if my new recording device was working. I hadn't tried it out properly beforehand. I had nightmares about returning to Bombay and finding no record of a three hour conversation.
In the end it worked out well, I wrote up a 6000 word interview which Meese liked a lot.
I've never been comfortable with recorders, somehow I'm always convinced I've pressed a wrong button.

DS said...

globalbabble does have a point now that I think of it. Though even mere listing makes known some of the new private museums in other cities one hasn't heard of.The Crest articles are succumbing to the flash of large pics and text be damned. If you'd sent a written email answer to a question surely that could/should have been quoted correctly.
I remember the Rahul Jayaram quote you never gave episode, your bewilderment and our mirth.:)

DS said...

would really like to read the 6000 thousand word Meese review. :)

Girish Shahane said...

Was published in the exhibition catalogue, I'll send you a copy.

Y? said...

Well over the years, we journalists our taught to butcher our sense of nuance to suit story needs.When I started out, I would be obsessed with not editing out certain parts of the quote (byte) so as to retain the context within which something is said.This in television. But everyone would just laugh at me so. And I've been in trouble in print too when the sub editor changed a few words here and there to completely alter the meaning .journalism!

Girish Shahane said...

Y?, your profile lists you as 23 years old. And you speak like a veteran :)
Television is a real nuance killer, no doubt about it.

Y? said...

oh I am still super super fresh but I was speaking for my tribe if that is allowed :)

Girish Shahane said...

Absolutely.

adrian mckinty said...

wait your sister's an actress?

Bollywood, indy stuff what?

You should be plugging her work man.

seana said...

Adrian, I think modesty forbids in this case. She was on a show with Sharukh Khan, and even at this degree of separation, I can dine on that.

Girish, you just keep on doing what you're doing. It's great.

Girish Shahane said...

Adrian, she's pretty well known in these parts, doesn't need a plug from me. She's also been semi-retired for a while now. On television these days, all the top soaps are dailies, which makes it difficult for somebody with two young kids like Renuka.
She directed a Marathi film last year, which has won quite a few awards, so that looks like her future career.
As Seana says, one of her first roles was in a serial opposite Shahrukh, before he became a film star. But they've only run into each other a couple of times since then and exchanged cursory greetings.

adrian mckinty said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but isnt Shahrukh the highest earning movie star in the world? Thats some nodding acquaintance.

Om Shanti Om was on here last week. That Deepika Padukone is an attractive woman. Way out of Shahrukh's league if you ask me.

Girish Shahane said...

I don't think he's the highest paid film star in the world, but certainly in India. And yes, Deepika Padukone is seriously attractive. She's in every second advertisement on Indian TV, but I never feel, "Oh no, not her again".

seana said...

And I bet both of them have been misquoted more times than any of us can imagine.

Young Blood said...

The worst thing about the world of the printed word, is that no-one teaches you about how to deal with a mistake. In this piece, for 'The Telegraph' two years back, I committed not one, but two huge errors. One, was unintentionally using Mr Shahane's name when I didn't even speak to him (it was a 'Shahani') -- for which (as he mentions) I apologized. [Indeed, 'The Telegraph' said sorry to him as well. The link is here, go to the entry below the last 'Letter to the Editor': http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080614/jsp/opinion/story_9368873.jsp]. The other mistake, is screwing up the name of the expert (it is Nick 'Havely' and not Nick Harley, who used to teach at University of York). I hung my head in shame to him too. It was a case of serious professional letdown for me, my bosses and to the paper itself. While I have absolutely no excuses to offer both Mr Shahane and Mr Havely, all I can say is that there was no real intention to goof up. Crap happens, and it hit me. I screwed up big-time. Call it a bad work week, call it blanking out, call it carelessness - there's no justification. But I've sincerely admitted to doing wrong and tried even harder to not blunder again. But is there any relief for me? Should I burned at the stake? I really thought this was a closed chapter. It obviously isn't, and given Mr Shahane's bellicose tendencies, it may never be. What rankles me really, is that Mr Shahane gives me the impression of being a superhuman who never never ever ever made an honest mistake in his life. But what if you seriously goof up someday Mr Shahane? What then? Would you be ready to face the kind of treatment you've meted out to me?

I say now what I said then. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry, again.

Regards,
~Rahul Jayaram

Girish Shahane said...

Hi Rahul,
Now I recall the Govind Shahani bit. I wish the Telegraph had just made the corrections in the article itself.
I hope you agree it's a funny story, fit for a blog post, don't take it too hard. I've made errors too, and have apologised in print, so we have that in common.
The next time I goof up, there will be a line of people waiting to laugh at me for it, and I won't blame you for joining in the merriment.
Girish

Young Blood said...

Hi Girish,

Thanks for your reply. Relieved to know that I'm not the only one to have goofed up! Owe you a drink sometime when I get to Bombay. By the way, your blog is 'masaledaar' ;-)

Cheers,
~Rahul Jayaram

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks, Rahul, I'll take you up on that offer.

seana said...

Glad you patched this up, as I think it's more an editing problem, as it is with most newspaper gaffes, than a reporting problem. I toast you both in advance.

pronoti said...

i'm surprised you agreed to be quoted in toi! once, a quote that i had included in a story was completely re-written by an editor, who has been a journalist for over a decade. when i confronted her, she said that people usually speak inelegantly and that we have to make them sound better. i think i sneakily removed the quotation marks and paraphrased the quote before it went to print.

Girish Shahane said...

Well, the writer's a friend. At least was until I wrote this post, not sure now :)
Plus, this was in Crest, which is at the top of the TOI hierarchy, right?
Btw, am I right in guessing you aren't with the Slimes any more?

pronoti said...

Still am.

Girish Shahane said...

You're a brave woman.

Girish Shahane said...

For the comment, I mean, not for still being with TOI.

Girish Shahane said...

Which is not to say I think there's any issue with you being with the Times.

pronoti said...

I get it (grin).