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 questionnaire was administered by Pankaja Srinivasan
What is your idea of happiness?
A state of being – as was articulated by John Lennon in his cult classic “Imagine”.
What is your greatest fear?
That, our national motto notwithstanding, ‘Truth' alone may not always triumph in contemporary India.
What is your favourite virtue?
What is the principal aspect of your personality?
What is your main fault?
The inability to decline an invitation with conviction and grace.
For what fault do you have the most tolerance?
I am tolerant towards those who have an ‘obsessive' and therefore a self-defeating interpretation of the term ‘Quality Consciousness'.
What do you hate the most?
To see an adult snatching candy from a kid and other acts that fall in similar buckets.
What would be your greatest misfortune?
To come to the rather sad conclusion in the evening of my life that I had failed to make a difference to the less-privileged lives of those whom I've had the chance to interact with.
What is your most treasured possession?
My credibility in the eyes of those who depend on me.
What is your favourite colour?
White – for its ability to convey the true meaning of ‘crisp'.
Who are your favourite poets?
Afraid I do not have favourite poets, though I do admire their artistry. I am fond of Haiku, though.
What is the military event you admire the most?
Battle of Britain. Specifically, the role played by the Royal Air Force's Fighter and Bomber Commands in scripting the turning point of World War II. This operation became the beginning of the end of the German advance towards Britain.
What is the reform you admire the most?
The Right to Information Act, 2005, passed by the Indian parliament.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Would have loved being an accomplished musician with an ability to collaborate with talented musicians across cultures, languages, genres, etc.
Which character in world history do you most despise?
Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organisers of the Holocaust during the Second World War and, of course, the entire chain of command all the way up to Adolf Hitler.
What is your favourite food and drink?
Food: Chinese Hakka cuisine; Drink: Glenfiddich Liqueur.
What is your present state of mind?
That of an amused and curious observer who wonders how deeply fragmented our modern society has become and how much further its social mores will decline before there is a rewakening and a return to moral values, sustainable growth and inclusive development. We are still fighting for the creation of ethnic identities within nation states when the very existence of the human race is under threat, and these existential challenges can only be solved by unified action after we dissolve our national identities and develop a global approach.
How would you like to die?
Instantly. Comforted by the knowledge that while alive, I had done the best I could, under various circumstances that had governed my existence till then.
What is your favourite motto?
Actually, I try to live by the thought expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his quotation: To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
If not yourself, who would you be?
God. To put this in context, if only I could succeed in stopping myself from being myself all the time, I would have realised every person's default status – the potential to be godlike.
(In 1984, Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to visit outer space, with two Soviet cosmonauts, as part of a joint programme between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Soviet Intercosmos space programme. He spent the next seven days, 21 hours and 40 minutes on board the space station, Salyut 7. Now Wing Commander (Retd), he lives a quiet life in Coonoor. He is a recipient of the Ashok Chakra.)