Friday, October 8, 2010
In praise of blunders – and blunderers
It was a hot and sultry morning. For the captive audience of about 1000 men and women inside the over-crowded auditorium, it was stifling. And the emcee, a perfect match for the weather, was making it much more oppressive for the audience who were groaning at his sloppy, long-winded introduction to each and every guest of honour. Then he did something enlivening: he forgot to invite the chief guest on to the dais and announced the prayer. There was a ripple of laughter among the audience, and the heat seemed beaten out of the auditorium for a few brief moments.
A half hour passed, and it was foul weather again inside the auditorium. When the audience were twisting about in agony, there was a break in the "weather" again, as the blundering emcee announced, "The chief guest will now have the privilege of lighting the lamp…"
The world would be an extremely miserable place if people did not make mistakes. If there were no mistakes, there would be nothing for us to laugh at. If laughter is a blessing, then error, which never fails to raise a laugh, ought to be welcomed. And the blunderer who helps you laugh your head off should sufficiently be rewarded. The most incorrigible blunderer should even go into the Guinness Book.
Errors don't just entertain us; as Robert Lynd points out in his essay, 'In Praise of Mistakes', the discovery of an error in a serious work gives us a temporary feeling of superiority over the great person who has produced the work. A dry-as-dust reader who comes across a blunder in chronology in Shakespeare feels an inch taller than the immortal Bard of Avon. So does a pedantically accurate reader on discovering that Sir Walter Scott has made the sun rise on the wrong side of the world. A lady felt excited when she noticed a mistake in Dr Johnson's dictionary: the word pastern (the part of a horse's foot between the fetlock and the hoof) had been wrongly defined as "the knee of a horse". It was a heady experience, and she couldn't contain her excitement. She went up to the great Johnson and asked him how he could commit such an error. When Dr Johnson replied, "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance", she must have been in seventh heaven.
If you don't consider me a ghoul, I'll share with you the feeling of amusement a misprint in the Vijayawada edition of an English language newspaper gave me a few years ago. "Siddhartha Academy found dead", read the headline of a news item. What the headline writer had intended was this: "Siddhartha Academy founder dead".