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 Esther Elias
What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is easily ruined by thinking about it and is remembered mainly in retrospect. Reminds me of a poem I wrote a long time ago —
in school the teacher asked
those of us who were happy
to raise our hands
i raised mine but saw
that no one else had raised theirs
that being happy
was a very difficult thing
What is your greatest fear?
It used to be of my parents dying, now it’s of my closest loved ones dying before me. Or of me dying with important things left undone or half done as we are all so very likely to do.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who one idealises and who one identifies with are different. Gandhi I grew up with, Marx and Ambedkar I discovered later, and my ideal would be a combination of these but one with the power of self-correction through historical hindsight. Identify with, would be a hedonist with an intermittently nagging conscience, like say a Chaplin.
Which living person do you most admire?
At this moment, S.P. Udayakumar who is spearheading the battle for sanity, health and reason, against the nuclear monster in Kudankulam and the Dr. Strangeloves who sit in Delhi, Russia, the U.S., France, China etc., who, even in the face of Fukushima think that one can make a pact with the devil without paying the price.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Selfishness and self-centredness. On a lower scale, being over sensitive to jealous or thoughtless criticism when I should focus on the millions of positives instead. I was tempted to say laziness, but laziness is actually good for the planet. We should all slow down and do less.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Inhumanity, cruelty and malice. There is usually a discernable cause for all this kind of perverse or stupid behaviour, but sadly there is also an effect and so the cycle is perpetuated.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Buying equipment that gets outdated before my film is done. Ideally, I should only rent equipment so as to keep abreast of technology but being a filmmaker who never plans shoots in advance, I prefer to own my means of production. That way I am not inhibited by the clicking clock.
What is your favourite journey?
It used to be my weekly visits to see my parents. Now that they are gone, I have no favourite journey left as such. But as I said before, happiness is remembered in retrospect. So it’s possible that if you ask me this years from now, some journey in the present will be remembered as a favourite.
Who is your favourite painter?
A single favourite painter is really hard to pin down forever, but in the running it would always be Ramkinker Baij who was my mother’s teacher in Santiniketan. Many of his works were inspired by dalits and adivasis who lived in and around Santiniketan.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Physical bravery, patriotism, nationalism, religious fervour.
On what occasion do you lie?
One lies consciously, not to hurt others, and unconsciously, not to get hurt.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
There’s always something. Being short when I was young. Losing hair and getting fat as I get older. Sadly, this vanity is not sufficient to lead me to discipline or exercise!
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Resistance, struggle, justice, democracy, transparency. But there is little choice about using them even if they sound like clichés unless one finds a way to express these concepts in a fresh way.
What is your greatest regret?
That happiness is fleeting and that the people you love will not live forever.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My papa, who lived without malice or ambition till the age of 94, who was aware and self-aware yet never lost his laughter.
When and where were you happiest?
I think I sort of answered this already. But in short, when both my parents were alive and I felt invulnerable.
What is your present state of mind?
Doing the best I can.
How would you like to die?
Painlessly, instantaneously, without worrying about it and not too soon — only after I have contributed work that will remain useful long after I’ve gone.
What is your favourite motto?
Can’t think of any I will not get bored with.
Anand Patwardhan is an activist-documentary filmmaker whose works focus on social issues such as caste, communalism and unsustainable development practices. He also supports initiatives such as the anti-nuclear movement and housing rights for slum dwellers. He has won several national and international awards for his films Ram Ke Naam (1992, In The Name Of God), Pitra, Putra Aur Dharmayuddha (1995, Father, Son and Holy War), A Narmada Diary (1995) and Jung Aur Aman (2002, War And Peace). His most recent release is Jai Bhim Comrade, which traces the protest against Dalit killings in the 1997 police firing.