The Proust Questionnaire is a fortnightly feature that alternates with the Saturday interview. These questions were most famously answered by the French writer Marcel Proust, whose personality-revealing responses came to define this form of celebrity confession. This fortnight’s questionnaire was administered by Baradwaj Rangan
What is your idea of happiness?
Happy come, happy go, happy moving along, happy never stay long… to rework some lyrics.
What is your greatest fear?
That I should give in to fear and seek certainty; that I should make fear my talisman and try to blend with the mob carrying the torches; that I should play on the fears of others and create the mob; that I could turn, for a belief, into the kind of person I detest, who, out of fear seeks certainty.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Jesus, who might be the only founder of a religion who hung out with women and had no problems with sex workers and adulterers and tax collectors and the poor.
Which living person do you most admire?
That unnamed school teacher in a rural school, devoting her time and energy to building the nation at its most fundamental levels. What teachers do, when they do it right, is magic.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your favourite journey?
The flight home after a trip abroad. Mumbai may be smelly, dirty, crowded, toxic, but it is home and I can afford a taxi here because they have meters and most operate by them.
Who is your favourite painter?
Mehlli Gobhai, abstractionist, recluse, painter’s painter, thinker.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
When I’m filling out questionnaires. My middle name is Eumenides. (His paradox was: Eumenides, a Cretan, says, “All Cretans are liars.”)
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Never given this much thought. Not good looking, not bad looking, that will do.
Which living person do you most despise?
To despise someone, one must first recognise that one has taken a position of superiority. To despise someone, one must know who one is and who one will become. These are lifelong endeavours.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I don’t know.
What is your greatest regret?
That I do not know what I do not know. That I know what I know insufficiently. That finding out about what I do not know will mean that I will never know what I know sufficiently.
What is the greatest love of your life?
What is your present state of mind?
Is there such a thing as a state of mind? By the time I answer this, the state of my mind will have changed. Looking at the state of the mind is exactly like determining the position and speed of an electron; the act of examining changes that which is to be examined.
How would you like to die?
Urvarukamiva bandhanan… the Mahamrutyunjaya mantra offers a beautiful image of how a cucumber slips from its pod when it is ready. You don’t have to pluck it; it falls away without effort. That sounds beautiful.
What is your favourite motto?
A motto that works is a sign of a life that does not work. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ ‘Speak softly and carry a platinum credit card.’ ‘Listen. Talk. Think. Decide. Act. Endure.’ ‘You can never know when you have grown into pomposity unless you have friends who deflate your pretensions.’
Jerry Pinto is a writer whose works include Asylum and Other Poems, Surviving Women, and Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, which won the Best Book on Cinema Award. His first novel Em and The Big Hoom was published recently.
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