Numerous reports have surfaced in Indian publications over the past 24 hours ridiculing the copy editing of General Pervez Musharraf’s recently published memoir, In the Line of Fire. Most of these reports are nearly identical, and all cite as a source a report by The News International, the English language publication of Jang. The reports have appeared in The Hindu, The Hindustan Times and The Times of India. The original article was written by Shaheen Sehbai, a reporter whose anti-Mush stance is notorious. The article begins thus:
Simon and Schuster, the New York publishers of Gen Pervez Musharraf‚Äôs memoir, are seriously embarrassed and hiding from the media because of a number of publishing, spelling and grammatical mistakes in the famous book.
It then goes on to enumerate various spelling errors and inconsistencies as well as some stylistic and grammatical errors. Interestingly, the Sehbai article contains a number of its own errors, some of which have been corrected in the Indian reports.
On learning that Mush’s autobiography could be riddled with errors, the team at CM decided to get to the bottom of these claims discrediting the General’s publishers. Our fact-checkers have been scouring the celebrated memoir for each instance cited by Sehbai (whose Wikipedia entry, written in the inimitable style of an auto-Wiki-ist, states that he was framed by the Pakistani military for “Arm Robbery”, which could mean that he is a grave robber or mannequin dismemberer, or worse). Below, we give you a point by point analysis of the claims that were made. But a host of troubling questions remain in all of this: Why target the copy editors? Do RAW and its henchman Sehbai have a particular bone to pick with Simon & Schuster? Does someone feel sore that his memoirs didn’t get picked up by a major New York publishing house? Are there people on the Subcontinent who really care about typos and name spelling inconsistencies?
Catalogue of Faults:
Claim 1: Islamabad is spelled ‘Islam bad’ (“…the capital city of Islamabad has been mischievously turned into ‘Islam bad.’ What terrible damage a missing ‚Äòa‚Äô in Islamabad can do is evident.”)
Finding: In this instance (p. xxii), Islamabad is spelled ‘Islambad.’ Not nearly so pernicious an error as reported. What a difference a tap of the space bar makes!
Claim 2: Inconsistent spellings of Shaukat Aziz (“Shaukat Aziz is surprisingly the prime target in the line of fire of this misspelling offensive of Simon and Schuster. Thrice his name has been spelled incorrectly, once as Shuakat (P-179) and twice as Shaukut (Cover Jacket Flap and P-232)”)
Finding: Wouldn’t it be strange if this were not true? Intriguingly, the name is spelled ‘Shaukat’ 10 times on p. 179, and ‘Shuakat’ only two times on that page. This seems an admirable win for the correct English spelling and we see nothing to complain of here.
Claim 3: Misspelling of Manmohan Singh’s name in the photo captions, but not in the text of the book (“Ironically another prime minister, that of neighbouring India, also comes under fire with his name Manmohan [Loved by the Heart] turned into Manmo ‘Ham’ [whatever that means] in the captions of his pictures published in the book while his name is correctly written in the text pages.”)
Finding: This is another space bar trick on the part of Sehbai and his co-conspirators. The labels on the photographs actually say “Manmoham Singh”, making it merely the matter of a single letter, and one so close to ‘n’! It is odd that Mr. Sehbai does not know what a ham is, after living so long abroad. Perhaps he has been too busy adding to his collection of severed arms to notice what is being sold in the coldcuts section of his local delicatessen.
Claim 4: Misspelling of Prince Karim Aga Khan’s name (“Likewise in the pictures section, Pakistan‚Äôs great friend Prince Karim Aga Khan has been renamed Prince Kasim Aga Khan”)
Finding: Sadly, this is true. We are sure the Prince will understand, and anyway, Kasim is not such a bad name.
Claim 5: The use of a lower case letter to start off the writing of the nation of China (“…while it does not matter to the publishers whether China is spelled with a small ‚Äòc‚Äô or a capital ‚ÄúC‚Äù as they don‚Äôt seem to care. A picture of General Musharraf with the Chinese president, inspecting a Guard of Honour, proves this.”)
Finding: Also true, though perhaps the spirit of the error is not so damnable as Mr. Sehbai would like to suggest. And while we’re at it, Mr. Sehbai’s own editors appear too disinterested in the maligning of the great house of Simon & Schuster to bother to deal with single and double quotes with any consistency, a point proven within the above example, in which the lower case ‘c’ is given single quotes and the upper case gets double (because it’s bigger and better?).
Claim 6: Spelling mistakes have ‘screwed up’ the index section (“The spelling mistakes have screwed up the Index section of the book as well. Because Muzaffarabad has been misspelled in the Index as ‚ÄúMuzafarabad‚Äô, [sic!] it shows only one entry at P-57 though Muzaffarabad has been mentioned at several other places, specially the chapter on October earthquake, which the Index does not show.”)
Finding: While this is true, we are not sure how many people will need to look up Muzafarabad or Muzaffarabad, or whatever, in an index, of all places! Furthermore, our suspicions as to the reliability of The News and the commitment of that paper to our impromptu grammarian grow stronger when we note that in the above instance, the name of the city in question has been set off by a double quote on one side and a single quote on the other. A slow petering out of resolve on the part of the editors? Or does Mr. Sehbai himself feel unsure of the validity of his own arguments?
Claim 7: Something is wrong with the months on pp. 111-12 (“The editors of the book have committed a major blunder in the chapter titled ‘The Conspiracy’. On P-111 the chapter says Nawaz Sharif‚Äôs father-in-law died in September 1999. Following that a sequence of events is mentioned including a meeting Shahbaz Sharif had with General Musharraf ‘a few days later’. But on the next page, P-112, the book says: ‘Soon after that the PM invited my wife and me to accompany him and his wife to Mecca for a pilgrimage in August 1999….’ How could Nawaz Sharif have invited Musharraf to go to Saudi Arabia in August 1999 when he is describing the events after September 1999? There is a major mix-up in the months, which editors of the book Humayun Gauhar or Bruce Nichols should have detected, had they paid attention.”)
Finding: It is indeed true that August tends to fall before September. Something is not right. Of course, it is also unseemly to pin this on the supervising editors. Do errors of this nature suggest that Mssrs. Gauhar and Nichols did not read the book at all? Our correspondent hopes we will follow his logic to this conclusion.
Claim 8: The book is full of grammatical errors and ‘loose expressions’ (“Grammatical mistakes and loose expressions also abound in the book. On P-32 while the definite article is missing before ‘most muscular physique’ on P-285 the phrase ‘the world holds its breath at our every confrontation’ or on P-336 the line ‘The Drug trade is an international ill,’ or on P-337 the words ‘international comity of nations’ do not make good reading. There is an international community or a comity of nations. Simon and Schuster could have done better.”)
Finding: This is the most interesting series of claims made in the Sehbai Report. We had thought the term ‘loose expressions’ might refer to inappropriate language or profanity, but apparently it has something to do with poor writing style. In his examples, Sehbai cites only on grammatical error, namely, the missing definite article in a sentence on p. 32. Here is the full sentence:
Muhammad Iqbal Butt, who had competed creditably in the Mr. Universe competition, told me I had a most muscular physique.
Despite the self-congratulatory tone of the entire paragraph about the author’s early achievements in athletics, a tone which might be considered unbecoming in a military dictator in some circles, we find the General’s choice of the indefinite article in this context, and his editors’ subsequent approval of same, to be most appropriate and judicious. In fact, a switch from the indefinite to the definite article would have made this passage excessively self-congratulatory.
As to the other phrasings that Mr. Sehbai finds unfelicitous, we find them at least as good, if not better, than the non-sequitur contained within the sentence in which these examples of the General’s poor literary style are cited. The balancing of a missing direct article (which is not missing) on one end of a lengthy sentence, with several instances of poor phrasing that “do not make good reading” on the other has us all confused. Perhaps someone is not interested in editing their news reporters properly. Which brings us to our last point: Mr. Sehbai’s Wikipedia entry mentions that he was forced out of The News a number of years ago. Why is he writing for them now?