The big name syndrome

 My “friend” called me frantically one morning to say she was not able to get any big names to agree to inaugurate the seminar she was organising at her institution.

When I suggested a few names, she said they were not big enough for the occasion and she was looking for really “big” names.

Why are you so obsessed with big names, I asked, feeling a little disappointed at her attitude.

Well, only then people will care to come and so also will the press. They believe only big names will attract attention and the sale of their publication will go up, she said.

May be you are right, but most often the names might impress but not their speeches or actions, I said.

Who cares, all that concerns me is the coverage the event gets. If it is accompanied by a photograph, it is even better as people will not miss going through the story, she argued. Moreover, I will also get credit in the process and the contacts might help me in future, she added lowering her voice.

I could appreciate her frankness in expressing her vested interest. 

By the way, what is the theme of the seminar, I asked.

‘Power lies in knowledge one possesses and not in one’s possessions’, she said. 

I burst out laughing when she mentioned the theme.

What makes you laugh when I am most serious, she said, offended.

Can’t you see, all the more reason for you not to go in for big names, I said, stressing ‘not’. You must choose someone who is well read and well informed so that people will listen to him/her and ponder over what is said. Then I went on to suggest some names of persons who were not only professionals but had an eternal thirst for acquiring knowledge. They were like walking encyclopaedias in my opinion. 

She vehemently nodded her head. You forget that the press doesn’t recognise such persons, she reiterated.

Why don’t you forget the press for once and give one of them a chance to inaugurate the seminar, I said.

She appeared convinced after a lot of persuasion and ultimately agreed to my suggestion. 

I had kept my fingers crossed till the day of the seminar as I was inwardly worried about the response the speaker would invite, as he not only belonged to the tribe of “unsung heroes” but also lacked the proverbial charisma.

The seminar began with a prayer and the rest of the programme followed. When the chief guest was introduced, I could notice the chuckles and sighs from some in the audience which left me with an unpleasant feeling. The slightly built figure stood up with all dignity, went through the ritual of inauguration and began his address. As the speaker proceeded, slowly the chuckles and sighs died down giving place to appreciative responses and ha ha’s at the most thought provoking speech, sprinkled with anecdotes and quotes from a wide variety of sources to the delight of the audiences who comprised a cross-section of society.

I had the surprise of my life when I opened the paper the next morning. The event was covered in two columns where a major part of the address was faithfully reported. I wondered how a nonentity till yesterday could have become a celebrity overnight. I am yet to find an answer to this!

N Meera Raghavendra Rao

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