Sorry, eh?

“Yaaron mujhe mu’aaf rakho main nashe mein huun
Ab do to jaam khaalii hii do main nashe mein huun

Maazuur huun jo paaon mere betarah pade
Tum sar-garaan to mujh se naa ho main nashe mein huun” – Mir Taqi Mir (1723 – 1810)

[Friends continue to indulge me (for) I am intoxicated

If at all you do so, pass me only an empty goblet (for) I am intoxicated

I am helpless (if) my tread is unsteady

Please do not be annoyed with me (for) I am intoxicated]

“Yaaron mujhe mu’aaf karo main nashe mein huun

Ab thodii duur saath chalo main nashe mein huun

Jo kucch hi kah rahaa huun nasha bolata hai ye

Iss kaa na kucch khayaal karo main nashe mein huun” – Hasrat Jaipuri (1922 – 1999)

[Friends please pardon me (for) I am intoxicated

(At least) Walk a little distance alongside me (for) I am intoxicated

Whatever I am uttering is a result of my stupor

Pay no attention to me (for) I am intoxicated]

These lines from ghazals written two centuries apart by two very famous Urdu poets of India evoke powerful imagery of the abject condition of a man apologizing to fellow tipplers and seeking their tolerance for his intemperate behavior.

In 1970 I saw the movie Love Story based on Eric Segal’s script (and later a novel) in Delhi. It had the line “Love means never having to say you are sorry” which became an all-time hit catchphrase. This tagline was later used in many popular songs and advertising campaigns. Many years later, both stars of the movie disavowed this line and agreed that one always has to say sorry.

Soon after arriving in Canada in 1996, among things that I started to discover about our new home, I was bowled over by the quintessential Canadian trait of saying “sorry”. Initially it was confusing as I observed that a “sorry” was not necessarily an apology. It dawned on me that this behavior possibly stems from a culture of politeness. Perhaps it evolved because early settlers had to rely on communal and social interaction rather than individualism to survive the severe cold and the harsh terrain. It is now so ingrained in Canadian public discourse that shoppers say “sorry” when skirting past the other in a grocery aisle, fellow riders in an elevator will say “sorry” and stand aside for the other to go through the doors first and the one doing so will also smile and say “sorry”. The list is endless.

Depending on the tone adopted to say it, “sorry” could denote many emotions like apology, empathy, sympathy, self-deprecation, scathing anger, impatience, shyness or just simply the surprised I don’t understand “sorry?” How and when does one feel sorry? Is there a “right” time and way to say sorry? Does it help the person saying sorry if the recipient accepts the apology graciously? Is “sorry” simply an expression of convenience that one uses to end a conversation that is not going well, without really feeling contrite.

Do I ever feel sorry for the staff in a Contact Center who – while not really responsible for an offending product, process or retail staff – end up having to apologize for it? Or, the time when my waitress, working to save money for her school, had to apologize for the chef’s mistake? Feeling sorry for people in a survival job calling to arrange your duct cleaning just as you are sitting down to dinner?

CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) runs Kids’ CBC Music stream – a unique program, filled with the hottest hits for the two-to-six-year-old crowd and their parents. The show records kids’ reactions to a continuous stream of popular songs on the web. My not-yet-5 granddaughter has been an active contributor to the series. Her astute observation on Justin Bieber’s hit song “Sorry” is that “He’s asking if it is too late to say sorry” and then going on to sagely conclude “, what you’ve got to do … you have to say sorry before they say you can’t say sorry”!

Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.


2 Replies to “Sorry, eh?”

  1. Do we say “sorry” because we genuinely regret a transgression or because we have learnt over time that it’s an expedient way to defuse a situation, major or minor? Saying “sorry” takes little effort and gets the job done most of the time. A Swiss army knife in our communication tool kit…and who can argue that it’s politically correct to boot! (Sorry, if this lazy Saturday pontification offended anyone. Gustakhi maaf.)


  2. What a true observation Pankaj. And thank you for sharing such a sweet little clip from CBC Kids; put a smile on my face.


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