Ask me no questions!

Ask me no questions!

Questions are curious things. Writing answers to them, you may think, is what enables you to pass exams; however, parrying them can also bring satisfactory results. The following incident is a true story.

It was the time when our country won freedom from the British. People everywhere were basking in halcyon idealism. Hindi had been declared the national language and everyone was gripped with a fervour to learn it. There was this boy whose mother ordered him to opt for Hindi as his second language though he was in the last year of school. He put in his best, but did not manage to go much beyond writing ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in that language.

In the language paper, he came across quite a few questions he could not answer. Whenever this happened, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was what he wrote. Lo and behold, he passed! Then there was this student who belonged to the school in which I taught.

A non-performer in academics, she was a brilliant athlete. She never came away from any sporting event without a haul of prizes and medals. When it came to exams, she filled reams and reams of paper with words that meant little. The teachers were an exasperated lot, but the principal insisted on retaining her because of her uncontested ability on the sports field, which brought laurels to the school.

Though she repeated class after class, she eventually completed the 7th standard, after which she joined a sports association, where she made a mark. Then there was my nephew who as a toddler came up with cute and amusing answers to all questions. As a result, he was often plied with them. When he was tired of them though, he had his own solution. He simply repeated the question thrown at him, which effectively stopped the game!

In the vast area of practical living, parrying questions can pay great dividends. A jester in a powerful ruler’s court was famed for often answering a question with another. The king, determined to put an end to this annoying habit, asked him, “Why do you always answer a question with another?” And the jester replied, “Why not?” So pleased was the king with his instant wit that he forgave him. In almost the same vein, a philologist, rather too secure in his knowledge, asked one of his fraternity, “Isn’t ‘sugar’ the only word with ‘s’ pronounced as ‘sh’?” Pat came the reply, “Are you sure?”

A maid I once employed was such a past master in the art of parrying questions that I finally quit putting any to her. “Why are you late?” I would ask, to which she would answer, “Yes, I am late.” More questions would simply be ignored and also drowned in the clatter of vessels and spoons being washed. In the same august company was a contractor who set up a meeting with my husband. He did not turn up at the appointed hour. When my husband rang up and asked him what the matter was, his unabashed reply was, “I did not think you would be present.”

Stoic silence and tears are a good way of preventing uncomfortable questions. Our dhobi, confronted with clothes reduced to tatters, would remain silent, and if questioned further, burst into tears. It was enough to melt nerves of steel.

As we all know to our cost, the judiciary can put off all questioning with a slew of adjournments. There are cases that remain as good as shut. But the most exalted in this group are the politicians. Some simply ‘smile and smile and remain villains.’ Others resort to the famous shut-and-bang words, “The matter is being looked into.”

A well-known quote by Oliver Goldsmith reads, “Ask me no questions and I will tell you no fibs.” Golden words that aptly sum up the gentle art of parrying questions.

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