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  Opinion   Columnists  10 Feb 2023  Farrukh Dhondy | On ‘truth’ in the Age of Internet: How Wikipedia is often wrong…

Farrukh Dhondy | On ‘truth’ in the Age of Internet: How Wikipedia is often wrong…

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Feb 11, 2023, 12:54 am IST
Updated : Feb 11, 2023, 12:54 am IST

There lies one of the instant hazards of Internet biography -- one can’t tell lies about one’s age any more.

Very many conversations today pause for someone of the company to Google a fact. (Photo: AFP)
 Very many conversations today pause for someone of the company to Google a fact. (Photo: AFP)

“O come with old Bachchoo and leave the lot

Of Panini and Pandurang forgot

Let Qutb build his minars as he will

And fools cry ‘Ban that history!’ --

Heed them not.

From Cumbersome Cummerbund, by Bachchoo

A friend brought his son, aged four, from the north of India to Mumbai for the first time.

They walked upon the beach and the lad stared at the ocean, fascinated.

“Where did all this water come from?” he asked.

“I don’t really know,” replied my friend.

Then, as they walked along the beach:

“And all this mud?”

The answer again was that daddy didn’t know.

They strolled a bit and the four-year-old looked at dad, saying: “Don’t worry, Aba, we’ll look it up on Google!”

From the mouths of babes, gentle reader! Doonya kaisy baddal gayi!!!

Or should I say “O tempora O mores!

As must we all who use it, I pay Wikipedia a small sum when they appeal for it. Very many conversations today pause for someone of the company to Google a fact, ascertain a statistic or prove that one of the people in the conversation has said something mildly or grossly at variance with the truth. This latter quest is not one for knowledge, but for the one-upmanship that the Internet facilitates -- or even compels. I can, gentle reader, quote many an example in which I have been shamed by getting some historical date slightly wrong and being corrected by Ms or Master Wiseperson, with the plastic-encased Samsung in hand, summoning “truth” from the Internet.

I shall confess, though, that when I was told by the same Ms or Master Wiseperson that some facts on my Wikipedia biography on the Internet were wrong, I did for the first time look it up. I was, on being told that I had a biography outlined online, mildly appalled. Had they told all? Were my darkest secrets exposed? Did they relay my address and phone numbers to potential creditors? Such a dangerous coming to pass!

And why? I can see why people might want to know how heavy Henry VIII was, or whether Marylin Monroe’s name was really that, but who’s interested in where and when I was born?

There lies one of the instant hazards of Internet biography -- one can’t tell lies about one’s age any more. Anyone can look it up and find exactly when you were born and use simple arithmetic to calculate your age. Not that I am ashamed in the lest of being a mere 49 and 1/2 but… (I looked it up, you liar, but I must commend your ability to divide by 2 --Ed).

Not that anyone cares, but yes, Ms or Master Wiseguy was right. They had several facts, trivial though they are, wrong. And, as a small slap to the other cheek of the ego, they hadn’t mentioned, in a list entitled “awards”, two or three of the literary and TV accolades I had won. Perhaps they ran out of space? (There you go again, incorrigible! --Ed)

I feel compelled, through my laudable honesty, to correct one fact in this list of awards. The bio says that I won the Whitbread Prize for my novel Bombay Duck. I didn’t! Yes, I reached the top two of the shortlist. The other book in competition was The Buddha of Suburbia, by my friend Hanif Kureishi. The prize was announced. It went to Hanif. Like Napoleon at Waterloo, I came second. The Internet is wrong on this detail, but have I bothered to correct it??? Is the Pope a Zoroastrian?

I know I should, especially now as Hanif has suffered a tragic fall while in Rome and, even after an operation on his spine, is unable to use his arms and legs. When I first read about it, I texted him and received a cheerful rather than a self-pitying reply saying not to worry, his “spin bowling was as good as before”! After the fall, BBC Radio 4 featured a short radio documentary on his life and work and interviewed me and I did say that Hanif beat me to the prestigious Whitbread, but they didn’t use that bit in the final cut. So, gentle reader, I did try and publicly correct the Wikipedia misinformation.

Of course, the Internet didn’t invent misinformation. It’s been going a long time – centuries -- and not just trivia, but even historical reporting distorting the truth out of all existence, leave aside proportion: take Herodotus’s “reportage” of the wars between the Persian Achaemenid empire and the Greeks. His biased coverage of the Battle of Thermopylae in which the idiot Spartans chose the wrong strategy and tactics and were slaughtered to a man, have become through his fantasy, the heroes of Western anti-Persian and anti-truth historical legend. Having opened the Internet on Thermopylae, I find reams of stuff based on the distortions of Herodotus the great historical liar.

Before I correct Wikipedia on the Whitbread, Hanif and myself, perhaps I should devote some time and effort to correct these reports which erroneously claim that the idiot Leonidas and his 7,000 (not “300”) troops were defeated because they were betrayed by a Greek who, for a reward, showed Xerxes and his army a path by way of which they could surround the Spartans.

Did Stalin need a German quisling to tell him where Berlin was?

Tags: farrukh dhondy, wikipedia, joseph stalin