(With apologies to Erich Segal)
As you probably know, Joel Stein wrote a piece entitled “My Private India” for the July 5 issue of Time that created a lot of anger in the desi community. To put it mildly, Stein brusquely stated his beef with the fact that so many Indian immigrants had decided to settle in his former hometown, Edison, New Jersey. In response to the ensuing outrage, Time put out this apology:
We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein’s recent humor column “My Own Private India.” It was in no way intended to cause offense.
This apology got me thinking. What does it mean to actually say you’re sorry?
“It is easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission,” as Grace Hopper reportedly said. But there are also ways to look like you’re apologizing without actually doing so. My personal favorite is the “IF-THEN (ELSE)” conditional statement common in psuedo-apologetic syntax. “I didn’t mean to, but IF I hurt your feelings, THEN I’m sorry” is a commonly-used version of the “IF-THEN” which isn’t necessarily as heart-felt as “I am sorry I hurt your feelings.” The unsaid part of the “IF-THEN” construct is, of course, the “ELSE” condition. In other words “IF I hurt your feelings, THEN I’m sorry (ELSE I may not actually be sorry at all).”
This can be taken to annoying, condescending extremes as I recently witnessed in a disclaimer for the Bangla film, Aamra. The film, a rather somnolent bore, had a number of scenes shot with hand-held cameras, a defiant, non-apologetic apology and a word of advise* before the starting credits. Translated into plain English, it is as if the filmmakers wanted to say, “We shot this film this particular way on purpose. All the cool people are doing it. We’re sorry if you’re an idiot who doesn’t appreciate it.”
On the other hand, I do have to give credit to the filmmakers for not attempting to apologize for the actual content in this disastrous film. Genuine or fake, that one would never have been accepted.
*The disclaimer had “advise” instead of “advice”. My opinion is that if you’re going to look down on your viewers, at least be grammatically correct.
© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban