Raghu returns home after a one-year stint in the U.S. He is received at the airport by his fiancée Sulochana. They have been engaged to-be-married, for just over a year. They have been communicating through e-mail and chat rooms during Raghu’s absence from the country. The alliance is a formal one arranged by the parents of both the parties. However, they have grown very close to each other and eagerly await their wedding ceremony to be held a month later.
Soon after his return, Raghu’s niece Ratna reveals to him that her parents are a little upset with Sulochana. Raghu is surprised for he isn’t even aware that his brother and sister-in-law are in touch with his fiancée. Ratna clarifies that the disharmony is a result not of direct personal contact but because of the innuendoes in Sulochana’s latest weekly column ‘Does this hat fit you?’ in the local newspaper. Young Ratna in her innocent way, reveals that the characters discussed in that column week after week closely resembled her mom on one occasion, her dad on another and several other members of the family at other times. Learning more about this column of eight weeks, Raghu finds that “Does this hat fit you?” gives personality traits of individuals and also suggests ways to correct themselves. Raghu wonders ‘How did Sulochana who normally writes economic news begin to write such a column?’
When Sulochana next visits him, Raghu asks her about this new personality column. But even before she replies, Raghu’s father, a retired professor of psychology, intervenes and says “Oh! It’s a very useful column. She gives certain character traits and questions the reader ‘Does this hat fit you?’ If they wish to change themselves, she urges them to follow certain tips she provides for transformations. You see, most people, are not even aware that they have such traits. And they are not likely to accept advice from people close to them. However, if it is mentioned as personality traits of people in general, and is written by a total stranger, they will be willing to read the suggestions and try and implement some of the tips suggested. It sure helps in better character building.” Raghu’s father, as if to convey that he is on her side, reiterates that he ‘very much likes her column’; while Sulochana remains embarrassedly silent.
Raghu digs out the back dated issues of the column and begins to read them. He realizes that the one he is reading has an uncanny resemblance to his brother’s arrogant style of functioning. The corrective measures suggested would certainly make his brother a better man. However, he also feels that it has not been written as a personalized account with him particularly in mind, but more as a generalization. The next one he reads does indeed remind him of his sister-in-law’s burdened life style – her habit of treating everything including eating and sleeping as a burden of work rather than an act of sheer joy. Here again the columnist had urged the reader to begin to see life as a joy of endless possibilities and not one of undue liability. Once again Raghu is convinced that the statements are generalized and not intended personally. With his father too vouching the positive effect of such a column, Raghu is relieved and decides to ignore Ratna’s comments of personal attacks. However all hell breaks loose when the next morning’s paper arrives.
As Raghu’s mother begins to read the column “Does this hat fit you”, her face undergoes a dramatic change and fumes seem to come out of her ears. Hardly having read a few lines, she calls out to her husband to immediately call off the wedding. Raghu’s father retains his cool and questions his wife “Why this sudden change?” The mother-in-law to-be declares “If she thinks she can write anything about me and get away with it even before she is married to my son, I dread to think what she will do after the marriage! Just call off the wedding. This girl won’t suit our family!” The father calmly asks “Why don’t you first read out to me what is written in that column?” With a grimace the mother begins to read, “Does this hat fit you? You are open with your comments and judgments and don’t pause to see if the person you are addressing is receptive to the advice or not. You are concerned only with giving your opinion and never realize that unsolicited advice only makes you loose your own self-esteem…” Refusing to continue reading any further, she screams, “Who gives her the right to write about me? Does she think just because she is a journalist she can write anything she wants but we commoners are not allowed to open our mouths to give our opinions?”
Raghu arrives on the scene and hears his mother seethe. Raghu’s father tries to appease her “Why do you take it so personally? Why do you assume that it is about you?” A disturbed mother mumbles “Oh! When I read it I have no doubts that it is about me.” The father asks with a mischievous smile, “Then, how does it say you can overcome those traits?” The mother whirls around “I don’t need to hear that from her”. “Well! Didn’t you learn that you have these traits only by reading that column?” questions the father. “Of course not!” declares the mother, rather vehemently. The father smiles “If you already knew that you were like that, why get so upset about reading it now?”
Raghu silently picks up the paper and begins to read the column “Does this hat fit you?” His mother faces her husband squarely “I know I sometimes give unsolicited advice. Nobody is perfect. I have a right to be the way I am. Why does she have to write about my weakness in the paper? Why not write my strengths?” The father tries to calm her,“Ah! But it is just titled ‘Does this hat fit you?’ It doesn’t mention you by name does it?”
Raghu intervenes and calls out – “Mom! How did you ever imagine that this is about you? Listen to this” – (he begins to read) “Your intentions may be noble, but advice on topics you are unfamiliar with only makes you loose your credibility…” His mother interrupts “I never speak about things I don’t know.” “Exactly”, says Raghu and continues to read. “Does this hat fit you? Would you like to change your hat? Read on. Remember to share your opinions only on topics you are familiar with and only to people who seek your help. Well-intentioned advice, on topics of familiarity may be shared only with receptive people. Don’t demean yourself by becoming ‘unsolicited advisor’.
Though appeased a little, Raghu’s mother is still not convinced that her future daughter-in-law is worth all this trouble. Just then Sulochana arrives and an uncomfortable silence settles in the room. The mother turns to leave when the father stops her. “I think it is time I made a confession. The column ‘Does this hat fit you?’ that has been appearing every week in the local papers for the last few weeks is written by me!” Raghu and his mother are shocked while Sulochana seems relieved. She immediately blurts out – “Thanks uncle! I came here today to expressly request you to disclose the identity of the author of that column to our family members.” A stunned Raghu asks “How dad? How come…” His father interupts “As a retired professor of psychology, I was keen to write a column like this. But if it appears under my name, people close to me will get angry with me assuming I’m writing about them…” with a trailing voice he sheepishly looks at his wife who looks on the verge of tears. He continues, “So I decided to just use my initials which happen to be the same as Sulochana’s. I let people think it is her column.” Raghu’s mother with a mixture of anger and tears leaves the room. Sulochana, unaware of the volatile scene that had preceded her arrival innocently asks, “How did you read my mind uncle? How did you decide to come clean just now?” The father with a twinkle in his eyes, declares “Well! I got worried that Raghu might get offended with you after reading the next week’s column. I don’t want your marriage to start off on a wrong note!”
The above story was written and directed by me as part of the short stories serial in Tamil titled OORARINDA RAHASIYAM (Well-known secrets) telecast in 2001. All of us tend to identify ourselves with the characters in the books we read or the film we view. Indeed only such identification is capable of transfering the emotional and intellectual material of that story into our heart and mind. But unfortunately, without retaining the experience, we relegate to our memory mere facts and information that aren’t capable of renewing the essence of the original experience.
When we are proud of the hat that seems to fit us, we go all out to proclaim ‘that is just like me!’ However if we are disgraced by the hat that seems to fit us, we crib and lament, refusing to use the opportunity to change ourselves. Most often the hats are tailor-made to suit the characters in the story – not us. Therefore while some parts of it may seem to fit us, the rest thankfully remain alien. No point getting ego-involved with the author of the story or passing judgements on the information alone. The story is just a dream that seems to float alive. You are the author of your own life and the true real you do not need endorsements from we story makers.
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts inSeptember 2003
Televised by Krishnaswamy Associates for the Tamil series OORARINDA RAHASIYAM in 1997