On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Bach Bothers Us No End!

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July 2, 2008
Deepan Joshi

Do we have a problem with Bach? Sample this scene from the 1997 Ocsar awarded movie ‘The English Patient’.

Hana (Juliette Binoche) explores through a gaping hole in the basement library of a house where the walls have collapsed from shelling—a deserted house where the movie unfolds. Books lie abandoned and there’s a piano tiled up on one side. Everywhere there are signs of brief German occupation. She presses the keys and Kip (Naveen Andrews), the Sikh lieutenant who is a mine-sweeping expert, rushes in from outside.

Kip: The Germans were here. They left mines everywhere. Pianos were their favourite hiding place.
Hana: Then maybe you are safe as long as you only play Bach.

Hana smiles, though, Kip is clueless and asks if there is anything funny. On this she bursts into laughter. The joke is lost on Kip.

Nothing funny when this week a considerable section of our English language press got hoaxed into believing that an 88-year old ex-Nazi war criminal Johann Bach, accused of killing some 12,000 Jews, was caught on the Goa-Karnataka border. Kip could be excused for not knowing who Bach was.

“You would think a press release about a German Nazi war criminal named Johann Bach being caught in the jungles of Goa after trying to sell a stolen 18th-century piano would be worth double-checking,” wrote Jonathan Allen in his Reuters blog that then talked about the mainstream dailies that ran the story on their front pages.

In a blog ‘Tale Of A Fishwife’, run by a former magazine editor in New York who now lives in Berlin, the author takes a dig at the news even before the hoax is exposed saying, “…But I’m evermore convinced that it’s all a big hoax. The guy was supposedly 88-years-old, and he dragged an 18th Century piano with him across the globe these past 50 years. It’s all too rich to believe. If I had the time, I’d try to confirm this for sure, but alas, I’m off to earn my bread. If it is all a big joke, though, I’m looking forward to laughing at it.”

To go along with ‘Super Pranks’, the motto of the organization “Eht rea enp cabk skripc” that appeared on top of the press release, also turned out to be an anagram – “The Pen Pricks Are Back”. An interesting comment in one of the blogs just said Johann Bach, why the hell did they leave out Sabastian.

The last word in the debate must go to Allen when he explains he’s not throwing stones at others, especially since no organization is immune to occasional lapses in journalistic perfection. He is right, the other big hoax concerning India occurred on Dec 3, 2004—the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy—when BBC got hoaxed into running an interview with a man posing as a Dow Chemical spokesman and announcing that the company had agreed to a multi-billion dollar compensation for the Bhopal gas victims. Reuters fell for the initial interview, though it later exposed the hoax.

The news sent the Dow stock down, in Frankfurt Dow’s share price fell 4.24 per cent in 23 minutes resulting in $2 billion being wiped off its market value. The shares recovered in Frankfurt after BBC issued an on-air apology and correction. Quite the opposite happened in Bhopal, where the news spread like bushfire causing jubilation among victims but bringing sadness, anger and tears when proved to be a hoax. Some hoaxes have consequences while others are just a good laugh.

Of all the lessons that can be learnt from the incident, one could be to listen to a bit of Mozart and a whole lot of Bach.

Update: This story was done on the date given above for Mail Today. My feeble attempt at some sort of a justification went through the roof when 24-hours after the hoax had been exposed, the DNA carried the planted story and Reuters updated the post titled ‘Indian newspapers fall for baroque Nazi war criminal hoax’

“I’m sad to learn that not everyone at the DNA newspaper reads this blog. Yesterday, they ran the story of the arrest of Johann Bach—the fictional, music-loving, piano-stealing, octagenarian Nazi war criminal with a fondness for Goan trance parties—a full day after it was exposed as a hoax,” Allen wrote.

A wonderful comment on the update was: Too bad women aren’t as easy to seduce as the press. Loose morals are like loose fact checking. Don’t worry; you will NEVER be as bad as the NY Timez!!!!!

You can follow this wonderful link as well.

Tribune finds 18th century piano and a Nazi in Karnataka forests: Posted From 9,500 ft in the Himalayas.


Written by Deepan Joshi

December 7, 2009 at 7:12 pm

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