Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (TV grab from ndtv.com)
(Reissued after correcting Barkha Datt as Barkha Dutt. I am sorry about the oversight)
Of all the unreservedly useless trivia about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life as the US Secretary of State that I do not want to know about, how many miles she has clocked up since 2009 has to be among the top five. The other four would be mostly about how she dances at night clubs or what kind of Indian food she loves.
Let’s find out how many miles. For that I had to travel all the way to Kolkata, as a manner of speaking, to watch an interaction between Clinton, Indian news channel NDTV’s Group Editor Barkha Dutt and a live audience at the the La Martiniere School for Girls in the city.
Presenting it as if it was the most defining part of her job as America’s top diplomat, Dutt asked the audience, "You know how many miles she has clocked up? Any guesses, guys?? I bet you can’t guess…. More than 700,000 miles.." If the intention of this trivia was to drop awe on an already awed audience, it did not seem to work going by the limited panning of the faces that I saw. They were like, “Eeyen.” Or as General Aladeen, the beloved oppressor of the Republic of Wadiya, says in ‘The Dictator’, "What the fukhoormajalmaamada?"
Given her peripatetic life, Secretary Clinton might as well swing by to meet General Aladeen on this trip since she is already in Asia. After all, meeting improbable characters is part of her job description. I digress but one occasionally feels exercised, partly because of what passes for serious news television but mostly because one is languishing in one’s own dungeon.
More often than not Dutt is a reasonably good, if too wound up, interviewer. She does work hard over a diverse range of stories and that can extract its toll. However, highly accomplished individuals such as Clinton or Oprah Winfrey or the Dalai Lama do tend to warp her personal gravity and make her look like a stuttering fangirl. That’s when gems such as this one pops up. While talking about Clinton’s meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has a daily breakfast of Feisty every morning, Datt legitimately spoke of “two very formidable women coming together” in that meeting. And then came up with this gem:
"You are formidable..you know that, right? You are not going to pretend that you are not formidable." Clinton tried hard to work around that saying she does not think of herself in those terms even while acknowledging that “there are some who do.” When I heard Dutt insisting how formidable Clinton is and exhorted her not to “pretend” otherwise, I could not but help rush to the restroom to throw up and nearly did it on the staircase. While running up I was also thinking that even MSNBC could not have out-softballed that one.
It is not for me to second-guess what motivated Dutt to tell Clinton “You are formidable…” but I will still do that. That’s what I do. Also, last night I saw highlights of Don Rickles’ career during Comedy Central’s annual awards where he was feted for his lifetime achievements. So I was already primed to be uncharitable this morning.
Here is how the remarks sounded to me. I know you are formidable. You know you are formidable. We both know you are formidable. So why pretend?
In the world of suckinguppest (Not an expression but coined and trademarked here), this was rather impressive. To tell your guest that you are not going to give her a choice but to accept that the guest is formidable is hard to top.
Unlike a sizable percentage of television viewing public in India, who seem to harbor some deep antipathies towards anchors such as Dutt, I remain largely appreciative of the sheer amount of work they have to do. On balance, Dutt does generally do a competent job. But then my unpaid job, not to mention no-one-asked-me-to-do-it-job, is to look for the unedifying. Hence today’s post.
Tailpiece: During the early part of the Clinton interaction, Dutt showed several pictures of her past India visits. One of them was her 1995 visit to Ela Bhatt’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad. That brought back memories because I was standing not too far from that particular frame.