ON THAT NOTE

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

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Our colum­nist Suresh Menon on al­i­bis, anec­dotes, and why you should ex­pect a fall in party at­ten­dances at 2020 new year’s par­ties.

Ire­cently apol­o­gised to a friend for pulling out from one of those yearend par­ties that look and feel and smell like other year-end par­ties. I should have let you know ear­lier, I said. I am snowed un­der work, I ex­plained. My grand­mother is sick, I be­gan, and prob­a­bly dy­ing. Later some­one re­minded me that it al­ways looks sus­pi­cious when you reel out too many ex­cuses. Pick one and stick to it, he ad­vised, like an old-fash­ioned mar­riage coun­sel­lor.

And now here’s The New York Times with ex­cel­lent ad­vice for party dropouts: Don’t apol­o­gise, it says, don’t send mes­sages, in fact, don’t bother. “Most peo­ple se­cretly love can­celling plans, so when you do in­vari­ably bail, en­joy it…” I don’t al­ways en­joy can­celling plans, but there’s much to rec­om­mend the part that sug­gests I en­joy it. On the one hand, guilt, and all it im­plies. On the other, en­joy­ment and a re­fusal to feel guilty. Put like that, the choice is easy.

One of the sad­dest mo­ments in life is when you apol­o­gise to a friend who was at a party you missed (think­ing on your feet to get the tone and ex­pres­sion right) when you re­alise he didn’t no­tice you were not there. It may not work with the host – hosts tend to no­tice such things – but you can still get away if you sound con­vinc­ing enough, the party is a large one, and you can re­late with con­vic­tion some anec­dotes you read on the Face­book post of some­one who was ac­tu­ally there.

The host is then too em­bar­rassed to dis­agree with you. Per­haps you were there, and he got it wrong some­how. Per­haps he was not a good host. Per­haps word might get around and he might be shunned in fu­ture. Much eas­ier to ac­cept that ex­pla­na­tion and let things be.

If you can find some­one else who didn’t go, then it be­comes eas­ier. You then be­come the other per­son’s al­ibi and he yours. You could even make up some anec­dotes. If a host hears the same story from two dif­fer­ent sources, he is more likely to be con­vinced. I haven’t ac­tu­ally checked, but I wouldn’t be sur­prised if some en­ter­pris­ing en­tre­pre­neur hasn’t al­ready put up a web­site: rent-an-anec­dote dot com.

Con­ve­niently num­bered so there is no con­fu­sion. Then you only need to mes­sage your friend the num­bers. Say 12, 41 and 183. He reads up the anec­dotes cor­re­spond­ing to those num­bers and hey presto, you have your story, “orig­i­nal” and ver­i­fied by an­other source.

To those who feel that all this cloak-anddag­ger stuff might ac­tu­ally be more fun than the party it­self, I can only say: You are right! Ex­pect a fall in party at­ten­dances at the 2020 new year’s par­ties.

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