Say The Word

Manners

An apology can fix any crisis, but who says 'sorry' now?

One of the cult movies of the 1970s was Love Story. Based on a book by Erich Segal of the same name, it was the precursor to every tearjerker, every cheesy chicklit film guaranteed to have you reaching for a box of tissues. Boy loves girl, girl loves boy — in spite of different backgrounds. Love triumphs only for her to die, tragically young. It catapulted Ryan O'Neal to heartthrob status and for years to come, generations were weaned on the film's classic line: "Love means never having to say you are sorry."

The film was released in India well over a decade later but as impressionable teens, we lapped up the high emotional quotient. And I watched the film several times over. We wept like we were dying when Ali MacGraw breathed her last and all of us wanted a lover like Oliver Barrett IV. At night, we prayed for a passion of the same magnitude. And sighed silently whenever we recalled the film as if it were our personal memory. Yes, we were that sweet and silly. But there was a cure for it — growing up. I am glad we were brought up in times that were simpler and less confused.

Sure, I cringe at the thought of those memories, but I am secretly impressed that Segal (also the writer of books like Man, Woman and Child and Oliver's Story) knew what an effective tool a simple apology could be. The power of sorry defined epic love. What impresses me more is that we were smart enough even as hormonal teenagers to know that this behaviour wasn't cutting it with our parents. We grew up in a generation that demanded apologies for everything. My family were actually "sorry extremists", if such a term could exist without causing laughter. Not only did we have to mind our ps and qs, we also had to apologise to everyone and for everything. So we said "sorry" when we stepped on someone's toes. We said "sorry" when we ran late. Over time, we even grew the word "sorry" to include sarcasm. There is a certain way to say "sorry" when you are rudely elbowed out of the way that gets another person to feel shame. Obviously, we weren't such good children by then but we had sharply honed social skills that made us mean adversaries.

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