Sweet lies. Bitter truths.

Chocolates and bitter gourd.

One is sweet. The other, bitter.

One is unhealthy. The other, healthy.


Just like compliments and insults.

One is gleefully accepted. The other is instantly resented.

One is about sweet lies. The other, about bitter truths.


I know you are protesting. (When haven’t you?)

Agreed, not all compliments are lies and not all insults are truths.

But you can’t deny that compliments are about saying what one wants to hear. And insults are about saying what one hopes won’t be said.

One is like walking into a beauty parlour. The other is like being wheeled into an operation theatre.

One is about masking the faults and revealing the strengths. The other is about masking the strengths and revealing the faults.

What clinches it in favour of insults is this: Compliments are very rarely from the heart. While you can be sure, insults are always wholehearted- from the bottomest pit of the heart.

Agreed, both are half-truths.

But a compliment is a dangerous half-truth to believe. While an insult is a useful half-truth to be worked upon.

One is about stagnation and ruination. The other is about betterment and perfection.

You’ve got to believe me, I am speaking from personal experience here.

One of the earliest compliments that put my life off-road came from my class teacher in class IV.

Just after handing me the year’s Report Card, she had asked me what I wanted to become in life. I had said, “Surgeon,” without hesitation.

She had laughed.

But I didn’t read much into that laugh, as it was followed by a life-changing compliment: “If nothing else, you at least have the long, soft fingers of a surgeon.”

That one comment made me pursue science until graduation. I spent considerable time and effort in trying to get into medical colleges despite what my marks, aptitude and entrance tests revealed.

Recently when I was introduced to a surgeon, I shook his hands and couldn’t help take a good look at his fingers. They were dark, short and stumpy. I could hear the teacher laugh, clearly.

My second most disastrous compliment came from the prettiest girl in class. While leaving school, she wrote this in my autograph book: “Your face is your fortune!”

That she wrote such a thing was unbelievable. But what she wrote was very belief-worthy. I must have read it a million times and carried it in my head for many many years.

If my face was indeed my fortune, then my fortune had begun growing facial hair just after school. Soon it was struck with chicken pox, then it got sun tanned, pimpled, freckled, blemished and later wrinkled. The only times my face has otherwise come into play in my life have been when I’ve come face to face with failures, fallen face down in my ventures, had face-offs with people, and been told on my face the bitter truth.

And yet, when my wife chose me as her husband over two other better qualified contenders, I suspected my deteriorating face to have finally paid off. I broached this topic on our first night, masking my self-obsession, with romance.

“What made you say no to that CEO in Saudi?” I asked, seeking a confirmation for the compliment in my school autograph book.

“What’s the point in having such beautiful Kancheepuram silk sarees if I have got to wear burqas over it?” she replied matter-of-factly.

I faked a smile.

“Okay, but you could have said yes to that auditor from Delhi?” I persisted, desperately fishing for a compliment, for any compliment.

But it was not to be. This is what she had to say: “Oh, he’s too good looking, too rich, too talented. He’s too good to remain a one-woman man.” Amazing how someone can be too good to be good.

The third compliment that I am still struggling to get over came from my family and friends around me. “Ramesh is so creative, no? He writes so well.”

They used to say this every time I gave them an idea or wrote them a card on social occasions.

Here is a sample of that creativity for which everyone thought I deserved the Booker prize:

You are as beautiful as a full moon

As bright as the sun at noon

To your family you are a boon

So, please don’t marry that goon

That turned me into an aspiring writer (I am still aspiring to be one), though a poor persuader (she married that goon) and a bad advisor (he turned out to be a boon).

In comparison, the insults in my life could have been far more constructive had I not rejected them.

“You dumbo, you can never become a doctor. Set up a pharmacy next to your dad’s clinic. Maybe you will survive.”  – A friend in school after a fight.

“How do you put up with this man?” – Our neighbour to my wife after a heated building society meeting.

“Bastard, no one’s ever going to find your writing worth buying.”  – An office colleague after I criticised his work.

The last comment is what made me start this blog. No one needs to pay, you see.

Over the years, I have become a complete convert.

I don’t accept compliments now. I don’t compliment anyone, either.

There’s good reason for it.

Tell a person you like his mannerisms, and you can be sure he’ll do it 10 times in the next 15 minutes.

Tell a girl that a colour suits her and she will wear those shades until you wish you went colour blind.

Tell someone you like the way he laughs and he’ll laugh for everything you say, until it gets on your nerves.

That’s the problem with a compliment. It makes people conscious of their strength and forces them to overdo it until it loses all its spontaneity and charm.

On my wife’s birthday this month, I told her I wasn’t going to give her any gift. Instead, I asked her to list out all that she hates about me. I promised her I’d change all of those for her.

She refused to say anything.

“Nothing,” she said politely, “You are okay as you are, Rum.”

But I insisted. And didn’t let her go off to sleep that night without saying it. Finally, she sat up and said, “Okay, if you insist…” And then went on to list 86 things wrong with me, in the next one hour. At the end of which, she kissed me and rolled over to go to sleep saying, “Rum, you are the best husband any woman can have.”

I sat up the whole night seething with rage. How dare she say such things about me, and worse, go off to sleep just like that.

But then, I remembered she had said something else, too.

Rum, you are the best husband any woman can have.”

Don’t ask me how anyone with 86 faults can qualify as a husband, forget being the best husband. But who cares. When it comes to compliments, hearts don’t ask for clarifications.

What matters was I felt good. Suddenly I was happy. I kissed her lightly in her sleep and went off to sleep.

Chocolate is an excellent sedative. Bitter gourd, a rude awakener.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Naren on December 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    “Amazing how someone can be too good to be good.” – Whoa. What an expression. Loved it Ramesh.



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