Here’s my advice. You need it

| Updated on July 16, 2020 Published on July 16, 2020

A reader reminds fellow Indians of the fundamental right and duty to tell others what’s good for them

Dear Editor,

I recently overheard this: “You don’t keep a parting in your hair? How will your brain cool? You must part your hair or you will face serious mental problems.”

Of all the hazards of growing up in India, dear Editor, none is more deadly than getting advice. It starts soon after birth and continues relentlessly through life until dementia, death or some other escape makes it ineffectual. Raised eyebrows will ask what you know, not just of patriotism and the divine, but of lofty ideals, such as fortitude, fearlessness and, inevitably, respect for elders (like them). Whatever you may hesitantly proffer will be met with”‘you should know more; read about it”, citing a source of knowledge inaccessible to most or in a language few know. A finger-pointing “you must” is intended to leave you no choice; should you mistakenly think any is left, “you must not” will warn against using it. Claiming to know your way is no escape: You have a duty to humbly seek and meekly accept wisdom from your elders, whether you know them or not. And of elders there are many kinds, from those a few months older (“That means I’m senior to you”) to petty martinets who flaunt authority in lieu of age: “Submit application duly completed. I will take a view and advise”. To be sure, advice duly delivered with a brief dismissing nod.

You may also have noticed, dear Editor, that long train and bus journeys confined in small spaces provide the ideal opportunity for those eager to inflict advice, especially on the young. “Tell me, what will you become?” It matters little whether you aspire to becoming carpenter or hairdresser, painter or scientist. Advice can always be contrived to improve your chance of success. “IFS or IAS? Chances are poor. Instead, try a different kind of career. Like mattress-making. Or...” with a triumphant twinkle and clever nod, “beekeeping. Very environmental.”

Verbing a noun is trivial for those who see themselves in power, real or imaginary, religious, administrative, social or political. “Listen to me. You are, what, 18 years old?” Index finger goes up. “I am ‘advicing’ you: Look inside before you look outside.” Finger knocks against chest. “Inside.” Usually followed by a swiftly delivered “you-know-what-I-mean” and a sagacious slow nod to dispel any questions about the speaker’s knowledge of the matter. A quick look at the cup of tea you are sipping for distraction, brings out “For your skin colour, tea is not good. Well known in our medical shastras. Tea and coffee will make you dark, may even turn your hair grey, make you bald.”

Advice segues swiftly into direction. Vehicle drivers have signals to indicate intentions — their intentions. Some choose instead to tell others what to do. Hand in the air means they should stop, finger pointing one way shows where they should go, flashing headlights warn them to get out of the way. Their way.

We go through life burdened with advice, freely given with no responsibility. It soon becomes habit to inflict advice on those we can compel to listen to us. And so it goes on, the ‘advicing’ cycle.

Can we instead tell the world how we made choices? And whether those choices were right?


Advice-phobic reader

Yours Sincerely is a weekly record of grudges and grumblings from an anonymous reader

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Published on July 16, 2020
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