Of all human failings, only one is almost fatal. If you, with all sincerity, compassion, and selfless altruism tell a bloke how he should fix his life or do well in exams, or if you simply throw some light into his mind and try to dispel a bit of the infinite darkness hanging therein, the ungracious fellow usually turns around and says, ‘Please spare me of your gyan, my five-year old niece knows that.’ Some overly polite people may not say so on your face, but will convey the idea in any case.
Having been treated thus many a time, I have coined a term for it: the Law of Universal Ingratitude. The law always works, much like the laws of physics, barring exceptional situations when you are the boss or a creditor to the guy you are trying to enlighten. Recently I watched it in action, with Bokshi Babu, a retired pen-pusher, at the receiving end. Let me narrate the story.
There were four SUVs in all and in our vehicle, there were seven of us besides the driver Amit Bodo: Mrs and Mr Bokshi, Mrs Rini Agarwal along with two aunts and yours truly and his better half. The three families had just begun a nine-day trip to the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. Strangers until then, we were brought together by Providence as we had all bought a holiday package from one tour operator. Rini was the only youngish person and the live wire in the group. Incidentally, she and her aunts never agreed on anything and argued all the time. I whispered to my wife that the niece was mostly right and generally, aunts are difficult people to deal with. I recalled that P G Wodehouse even had to write a book on the subject: “Aunts aren’t Gentlemen”. But my wife, with her singular lack of objectivity, said I am always biased towards younger women.
Mrs Bokshi was an affable elderly person. Her husband too was friendly and warm, and as we left the city of Guwahati and the gorgeous Brahmaputra behind, we discovered how well-informed and indeed widely-travelled he was. As we veered towards discussing our past travel experiences, we realised there was no tourist destination in India that Bokshi Babu hadn’t visited. When someone mentioned a place they’d been to, Bokshi immediately responded with a sense of déjà vu. The conversation followed a pattern.
Bokshi would say he had visited the place in 19…, give us a detailed account of the trip with dates, the positives and negatives, and would wrap it up with some friendly advice. Transcribe any one of his narrations, and you get a fine essay: “A Memorable Journey”. I felt I was actually in school, talking to the first boy of our class before an exam. The brilliant fellow was reeling off topics he had studied and in gathering gloom, I was realising how terribly ignorant I was!
Bokshi was not only abundant in travel stories, but also had an opinion on everything under the sun: from ballistic missiles to “Bidya” Balan. And he didn’t hesitate to express them if there was an opening, however narrow it might have been. When I complimented him on his expertise in so many fields, he said, ‘Hang on. I have hardly opened my basket. You’ll be dumbfounded when I do.’
A most generous offer, but sadly, we felt there was something sinister about it. Our ignorance would have faded a bit, if only we had the patience, and of course, the desire to enrich ourselves! But the Law of Universal Ingratitude came into play and we chucked the opportunity, stupidly.
So the next day, Bokshi Babu and his wife found themselves in another vehicle, and a happy couple joined us with their lovely child. And as if to prove that Nature loves equilibrium, the gentleman who replaced Bokshi Babu was rather reticent. He uttered exactly eight sentences in the remaining eight days of our tour.
How was the switch achieved? Well, one of the basic rules of telling a story is not telling everything!