Q greater than A


There can be a million unanswered questions in your life, but there should never be even one unasked question.

But asking isn’t easy.

If there’s one thing that’s tougher than being asked a question, it is being asked to ask a question. That’s because it’s quite acceptable to say, ‘No, I don’t know the answer.’ We are at worst dubbed, ignorant. But imagine having to say, ‘No, I don’t know what to ask.’ That’s sounds downright silly and makes us look like distilled idiots.

My first recorded experience of this predicament was on the 21st of August, in 1970.

Our history teacher had stopped reading from the textbook and was visually scanning the class for her afternoon prey. I had ducked behind swollen heads in front of me, the way a deer would hide behind overgrown shrubs. But then the jungle is a much fairer place than a classroom- a deer never has to give himself up, but students have to.

‘At this point in Akbar’s reign, there’s an obvious question that should be asked. Ramesh, do you know what it is?’

I slowly gave myself up from behind all those heads, wondering why a teacher always overlooks the easy and willing preys in front of her, and instead chooses to hunt down the most reluctant one. Bad tiger!

What am I supposed to ask? A million questions had flooded my head, but were they relevant?

When will the bell ring?

Miss, can we change that to who built the Taj Mahal?

Would there be upma at home this evening?

All unaskable.

I stood there frozen in time and history. Right at the centre of the grand Mughal durbar in front of the Emperor of Emperors, Akbar the Great; amidst impatient and valiant warriors in combat mode; flanked by the Emperor’s personal bodyguards ready to behead me if my question turned out silly. I stood tongue-tied, as the whole Mughal kingdom’s subjects waited with bated breath seeking deliverance, hoping to hear their messiah speak and ask that one question that would change their lives and the course of history forever. But I never did. And that moment lapsed into forgettable history permanently with the long bell. A death knell.

The next equally dramatic lapse came on the 10th of February, in 1989.

As upstarts in advertising, my dear friend Murali and I were shocked to see our freelance election campaign done for Mr. Murasoli Maran released in the papers, while the official word was that it had been rejected. Many phone calls, many threats to sue them, and many abuses later, one day we got a call asking us to come to their den. Friends warned us not to fall for the trap as by then the DMK had won the elections. But we walked right into it fearlessly, armed with just the proof of our campaign, and were ushered into a room full of party thugs.

Creative revolutionaries taking on the establishment.

That’s the problem with our films. They make reckless youngsters believe that they can do in one real-life take what filmi heroes do in 14 retakes, with help from co-operative villains, stunt masters, rehearsals and tomato sauce.

But to our great disappointment, two youngsters among them, clad in faded jeans, apologised profusely and tore out a cheque asking us for the amount.

I had gone all prepared for a good David-Goliath fight in the name of creativity, not to return like a gushing beggar with more-than-asked-for alms thrown into bowl.

So I thundered, ‘Sorry, creative people yearn for acknowledgement, not money.’

Having said what was equivalent to a slap, I turned in slow motion, walking out dragging along Murali by his hand, like a hero would walk out on the villains, with the heroine. I am sure I heard Ilayaraja’s background score that went hey, hey, hey.

As we reached the door, I heard the youngsters call after us to say, ‘If there’s anything you want to ask whenever, don’t hesitate.’

Ladies and gentlemen, those boys are today better known as Dayanidhi Maran and Kalanidhi Maran. Their combined worth beyond my mental math.

Their open offer to ask anything remains unasked like an uncashed cheque that’s past its pay-by date.

The third occasion was on the 13th of September, in 1991.

As women gloated over the similarities between us and glossed over our differences, men clustered around their drinks and spoke about the falling dollar, the rising sensex, the growing IT sector and the degrowing insecticide market.

Thankfully some sensible soul in that gathering said, ‘Ramesh, why don’t both of you go in there and have a small chat with each other?’

I knew small and chat were the absolutely crucial words. So I wasted no time. We disappeared into the next room, heckled and teased all the way out by the women. Finding no chair, we made ourselves uncomfortable by sitting on makeshift stools. Once settled, the two words small and chat lit up in my mind, and had the same effect that On Air has on a RJ.

Now, when it comes to breaking ice, time is of essence. The longer you take, the tougher it gets. So, I broke the silence even before it became silence.

‘Anything you want to ask?’

That was meant to be more like ‘How’s the weather?’ But she seemed to have been all prepared. She quick-fired 25 yes or no questions at me, some of which no one has ever asked me in my life.

I answered every one of them, at the speed of a recoil. Each one, a blatant lie.

She was thrilled beyond what facial muscles can express. In her joy she grew respectful and asked me if I had any questions.

‘One.’ I said, ‘Just one.’

As you can see I was better prepared for this third occasion in my life. And so I asked her the one question that was to determine the future of our lives together.

‘Tell me, do you like MGR or Shivaji?’

She hesitated, but replied. ‘MGR.’

‘Me too!’ I said gleefully. We were both overjoyed. We hugged and kissed in the privacy of her kitchen- yes, kitchen- until the two words small and chat got between us.

We came out and interrupted the saccharine conversation of the women and the Save the Planet summit of the men.

‘Yes, we would like to get married to each other!’ we announced in a school-function like chorus, to the kind of appreciative audience that one gets only during one’s marriage.

Not one year passes without her reminding me of that embarrassing incident. And each time I wonder what would have happened had she replied, ‘Shivaji.’

So, ladies and gentlemen, life is mostly a question of questions. And very rarely about answers.

But I am afraid none of you asked me the obvious question that was begging to be asked of a philosophy like L until E. I gave you 8 days to ask it. But you didn’t. Don’t sweat over it. In a few days I’d be back with the big Q and its simple A, as told to me by the greatest philosopher I’ve met. No, not my Inner Voice. I said met, not just heard.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by mahesh sutar on December 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Loved reading it.
    For me every scene looked like a well shot, edited, with teriffic sound track, south film 🙂
    Awaiting your next post.
    Have a good day


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