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How Are You?

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By Ratna Manucha

So Dear Reader, how are you this morning?

No, don’t answer that. Forget I even asked you this question.

Ever wondered how this ubiquitous little sentence, with just three little words (contrary to popular belief, there are more three little words than the obvious ILU), can get your poor brain all in a tizzy and tied up in knots? That is, if you’re foolish enough to use it at the wrong people. Ring a bell? No? Well, bear with me and by the time you’re done reading this piece, you and I might be on the same page…literally!

So, the phone rings and it’s my friend from another city on the other end of the line.

‘Hi! How are you?’ I ask chirpily.

I’m almost ready with my next sentence when I am jolted back to reality. My friend has taken my question rather seriously and by now I am getting a blow by blow account of her ailments, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.

Short of biting my nails in despair or hanging up the phone saying there’s a bad connection, there’s really nothing much I can do.

There goes my plan for the evening. So, I wait it out as patiently as I can just as I would wait at a red light wanting to be the first to zoom off as soon as it changes to green…in this case waiting to get a word in edgewise as soon as she stops for breath.

And Hurrah! Success at last!

‘That’s enough about me,’ she says.

‘Really?’ I want to ask. ‘You’re sure you don’t want to continue? You’re absolutely, totally, completely sure you’re done?’

‘How are you? She asks, finally.

You’ve got to be kidding me. You really expect me to match you word for word? I think I’ll pass…and so I say a quick goodbye promising to catch up again soon…or never (under my breath).

I often wonder why the answer to this innocuous question can’t be other three little words, ‘Fine, thank you’.

How simple and uncomplicated life would be.

‘How are you?’

‘Fine, thank you.’

There, doesn’t sound too bad now, does it?

Once the niceties are done with, we can get on to other more interesting topics of the day.

But woe betide if you are in front of a person who is all set to answer your question in utter seriousness.

At this party the other day, I walked in all bright as a button ready to mingle and I was right in the middle of mingling when I noticed an acquaintance sitting by herself in a corner. Silly old me. I had to go and put my foot in my mouth. Feeling sorry for her and with all good intentions of making her get up and join the party I hopped, skipped and jumped across to where she was sitting.

‘Hi!’ I trilled. ‘How are you? Long time no see.’

There. I’d done it again.

The long suffering look on her face should have alerted me but it was too late.

Some people just never learn.

‘Oh, these migraines have really been…’

I should have taken the hint and made a quick getaway. But foolish me, stuck on like glue.

‘…and then my sciatica has been acting up and the doctor wants me to get an MRI done …’ she droned on.

I found myself slumping into the nearest chair as I tried to look concerned, all the while casting furtive glances at the rest of the crowd, hoping to make eye contact with somebody…anybody would do…who could help me get away, but no such luck.

Apparently, people had wised up and were keeping a safe distance and after the perfunctory hello, they would all slink off casually, some to get a drink, others to catch up with someone they had suddenly noticed across the crowded room…

My mind was in overdrive. Should I outsmart her by cooking up some diseases with fancy names? Two can play at that game.

And so, I butted in.

You know, I have been diagnosed with the Walking Corpse Syndrome,’ I said, looking at her with a glassy stare.

She stopped mid-sentence.

‘What’s that?’ she asked, looking mildly interested.

‘Cotard’s delusion,’ I replied. ‘I believe I am dead. I don’t exist. I don’t even know how I reached this party. In fact, I don’t know why I am holding this glass of juice. No point in drinking it since I am already dead.’ Saying that I put down my glass.

The lady almost choked on the kebab she was eating, and her eyes almost dropped out of her face to the floor.

Ooooh, I was beginning to enjoy myself now.

‘You’re joking,’ she said. The look on my face must have confused her because she questioned me again. ‘Aren’t you?’

‘On the contrary, I’m deadly serious,’ I replied, giving her my best blank stare. There might be a hidden actress in me yet.

‘I’ll be back,’ she said. ‘I have a sudden urge to go to the loo.’

She got up abruptly, spilling the half-finished glass of juice and almost tripping over her saree, in her haste to get away from me.

Whew. Peace at last. I hope nobody noticed my evil smile. I sat back in my chair, finished my glass of juice in peace and got up to join the party.

Ingenuity, thy name is Ratna.

Before I end, Dear Reader, how are you?

On second thoughts, forget I asked. I’m sure you’re well.

(Ratna Manucha is an educationist, an award-winning author of fact, fiction and text books for children and young adults and a columnist who constantly looks for humour in ordinary, everyday situations).