Someone said a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth

It is a truism that politicos and celebrities are notorious for mouthing gaffes, the latest being the Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s uncalled-for remark about filling up dams. Of course, commoners are no exception. But when the former make them they become conspicuous and often draw the attention of the media. The word ‘gaffe’ has been defined as a clumsy social error; a faux pas, or a tactless remark. Someone said a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.

As one speaks of politicians’ indiscreet, tongue-in-cheek remarks, one never fails to think of the former U.S. President George Bush. When it came to making gaffes, everybody paled into insignificance beside him. Though Mr. Bush didn’t seem to have yielded to anyone in making gaffes, a certain Indian politician of yore, away from Dubya in space and time, could have beaten the American strongman hands down had they been contemporaries.

Whoever coined the term, ‘gaffe’, might have anticipated him. He habitually shot his mouth off, and became the butt of every joke told those days in the national capital. With countless floaters to his credit, the politician was the subject of endless anecdotes. I have heard of one but cannot vouch for its veracity for, it might as well be a figment of somebody’s imagination. But remember what Somerset Maugham said: Truth is stranger than fiction!

Now, to tell the story. There was some inexplicable delay at Delhi’s Palam airport before a foreign dignitary, a charming young lady, who came calling, and whom the politician had received, was driven to Rashtrapati Bhavan. But the politician being a gregarious soul and verbose was none the worse for the delay. He was on cloud nine. Here was an opportunity, a godsend, he told himself, to talk with a dazzling young lady.

A quiver of excitement bestirred him. He took her to the VIP lounge. But, as bad luck would have it, his wife was with him. A no-nonsense woman, she held sway over her husband and curbed him whenever he gave any sign of running amok, like Don Quixote who put an embargo on the tongue of his squire Sancho Panza to escape his gibberish.

As they found themselves seated in the lounge, the politician, feigning sincerity, said, “Ma’am, how I wish your husband had accompanied you. My desire to meet him is a long cherished one.” A deep blush enveloped the visitor’s face. And a rather embarrassed expression pervaded his wife’s countenance. The lady said, a bit gratingly, “You’ve been misinformed, Sir. I am not married.”

But the politician was dauntless. He continued in the same sentimental vein: “Oh, I am sorry; thought you were. Nevertheless, I wish you had brought along your cute chil ...” He stopped abruptly, short of completing the word, even as an earsplitting shriek, analogous to the squeal of a tormented pig, escaped him. His wife’s timely intervention made the second syllable of the word ‘children’ freeze on his lips. Seated beside him, she pinched his thigh, without being watched by the visitor, so severely that he writhed in pang.

She could hardly think of any other occasion when she had made her husband taste more excruciating pain. “Often he suffers from muscle cramps — unbearable at times,” she told the stunned guest, to account for his agonising antics. Time was when unmarried mothers were stigmatised and frowned upon by society even in the West. Though our politician knew this well, his indiscretion took the better of him.

For sure, the pinch did make him wiser, but only until another opportunity to talk through his hat presented itself to him.

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