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by Kiran Jhamb
(Nagpur, Maharashtra., India )

Over the centuries much has been made of the fundamental fault of the female character - that to mean ‘yes’ and say ‘no’ comes naturally to them. “Maids in modesty say ‘No’ to that which they would have the profferer construe ‘Ay’,” declared Shakespeare. This was sheer conditioning.

Now the swing is to the other extreme. Be it maids or men, in social give and take saying ‘yes’ has become a compulsion. The disease to please is rampant. The sheer conditioning of our saccharine coated Indian urban culture demands a ‘yes’. We don’t want to create a bad impression or embarrass ourselves. We don’t want to lose others’ respect or risk rejection. We may not confess, but we are controlled by wanting to be liked. So we feel obligated to say yes in order to stay in the good graces of others.

Today the discerning person has to differentiate and recognize whether it is a ‘yes’ meaning ‘no’ or ‘yes’ meaning ‘yes’. Nobody likes the truth that no, the other person cannot oblige by doing whatever is being requested. So people have honed to perfection the art of saying ‘no’ by saying ‘yes’.

It is not that earlier this tendency was missing, but people were not brazen. They at least partially tried to fulfill whatever they committed to do. Or, the wish that it could be done was there. “Hamidullah raised his voice suddenly, and shouted for dinner. Servants shouted back that it was ready. They meant that they wished it was ready, and were so understood, for nobody moved.” The dinner was not ready. The servants were stalling for time but they were cooking the dinner. This was foreigner Forester’s observation of Indians. Here is our desi Niezkel, “Pushpa Miss is never saying no/ Whatever I or anybody is asking / She is always saying yes” but he realizes “That is showing good spirit/ I am always appreciating the good spirit.”

But a surfeit of hollow good sprit becomes difficult to digest; and one longs for healthy direct truth. You cannot fool all the people all the time. Your reputation as a smooth operator, a glib liar, a person lacking in integrity is the cost you pay for not saying ‘no’. Life can be so much simpler if we decide to say ‘yes’ when we mean yes and ‘no’ when we mean no.

Recently I wanted some chore done. I approached one of my colleagues, Mr. A, with a request to use a contact of his, Mr. B, on my behalf. “Take it as done. He is a child hood friend. He won’t say no. My ringing him up is enough. We will go together. I will call him and fix up an appointment. You come at two o’clock to my place. Your request will be okayed in a jiffy,’ said Mr. A. Facing many personal adjustments I reached Mr. A’s place on time. “Oh! My God, I just forgot to ring him up”, was the reply that greeted me. Then he made a phone call and told me that we would go to meet Mr. B. next week at the same time. A week of uncertainty passed. This time I had gained valuable experience - to save my time and petrol and save myself from the tension of a wasted journey I rang Mr. A up whether I should come or not. “Arrey, achha hooa, you called. I was thinking of calling you. A foreign delegation has come, so Mr. B will not be available. We will go on Saturday.” I swallowed the sour realization that he was unwilling to grant me this favor, but I determined to see it to the bitter end. Come Saturday and relentlessly I went to Mr. A again, “Yes, yes. I remember. I called him. He is going away for the weekend. He has called us on Tuesday afternoon. We will go then. Okay?” By now I was quite disheartened but I had nothing to lose. So with stoic calm I greeted Tuesday and presented myself in Mr. A’s august office. “Teri to Kismet he kharab hai! Today I have urgently to go to the Railway station to attend my aunt who is passing through Nagpur. I will call Mr. B and fix up an appointment. I have been trying his number but it seems to be out of coverage. I will call him and inform you about the new appointment time.” Six months have passed. I am still supposed to be waiting for that call.

Why couldn’t Mr. A have given me a straightforward answer? Okay lace it with a ‘sorry’ if you so want, but be truthful. Truth never hurts anyone. Lies do - deeply. Now I have no respect for Mr. A. I am sure if he had said 'No’ right in the beginning I would have respected him in the long run. It shows that he has a high notion of his own social tact and considers others fool. I am sure if I were to remind him of the incident his response would be, “Arey, haan! Why didn’t you remind me? By now your work would have been done. Reminder dena to tera kaam tha.” I was careless would be the conclusion. We still often smile and nod to each other because the tendency to smother differences to preserve relationships compels us to silence the conflict.

You come across people who will never say ‘No’ to the boss. Whatever improbable, impossible, foolhardy, impractical projects the boss comes up with in the meetings, they will say ‘Yes’ to these in a loud voice full of enthusiasm and promise full co-operation and then disappear on the first available moment. The bosses too have such monumental egos that they fail to recognize these ‘Yes boss’ types, who in their turn after the boss’s back is turned, do not tire of saying ‘get-lost’.

I am all for a plain, unembellished, stark, bleak, brutal, bitter, bare, and barren ‘No’. It saves noise pollution - the lengthy, circuitous dialogues by which the dim-witted optimist grasps that the ‘yes’ indeed is a ‘no’. It saves time. It saves you from hangers-on - only those who mean real business dare to cling once you have gained the reputation of a says-no-and-means-no person.

On the other hand, if you are one of those who experience difficulty in saying ‘No’ and as a consequence get embroiled in difficult, impossible situations then stand before a mirror. Look yourself in the eye and rehearse clearly enunciating, ‘No, I will not come to your party.” The party-hearty people fail to realize that anyone can have something better to do than to attend their party. They feel as if by inviting you they are giving you the best deal of your life. If they persevere with a ‘No, no, you have to come’ to your polite evasive, ‘I will try. Some guests are coming. I will confirm later’ then you should realize that firmer measures are called for. Be obstinate and reply, ‘No. Sorry. I am a loner. Thank you.’

Remember you were taught as a child ‘telling lies is not honourable’ Yes? No? ‘No comment’ is a splendid expression you must agree.


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