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The quintessential obnoxious people

Tapan Misra

If you want to travel farther, travel light. Ignore those who try to spoil your peace of mind. This is applicable to all who want to achieve success in life.

Syed Mujtaba Ali, one of my favourite Bengali authors and renowned linguist, summed up What is Happiness in one sentence. According to him, “it is the feeling you experience when you hear that your neighbour’s son has failed in the Matric Board examination”.
In this way, he summed up the quintessential obnoxious people: they are close to you, they are jealous in nature, they derive vicarious pleasure from your sufferings.

Some time ago, I went through medically trying times. One evening in this difficult period, after a long session of radiation, following chemo, I was enjoying music with the headphone, TV blaring in its own way, and there was a cap on my shaved head. One fellow, with whom I was hardly on talking terms, unexpectedly barged into my house. He mistook me as my look-alike brother, whom he had met earlier, and asked – How is Dada (big brother)? Is he bed -ridden? Is he paralysed?
I replied – Yeah. Fully bed ridden. Hardly can move. Being fed with rice tube. All his toileting needs are confined to bed. Without supporting hands, it is very difficult for bhabi (sister-in-law).
He was cooing – Tch Tch. “Very sad. Very sad. God is unkind. Believe in God. Nobody can go against His wishes. Life is like that”.
But I could secretly watch glitters of pleasure, in his generally unexpressive eyes. Then I broke the truth. It appeared as if he had just seen a ghost. That startled character darted through the stairs. Thereafter, I did not see his face for months together. I have learnt the biggest lesson:
Never trust the lips. But surely, eyes are a giveaway.

One gentleman had the habit of writing very offensive anonymous letters. Something very common in any large Indian establishment. But the language he used in those letters was contrary to his supposedly decent looks and self-praise to project an image of exemplary honesty and integrity. I noticed a pattern, every time I received such letters, this man would come, sit in my office for hours together and discuss the “bad character’ of the person writing those letters.

One day I played a trick. I told him that I suspect the posts appear to be stamped at a parfticular post office, near his residence, though the stamps were not clearly legible. The next letter came by speed-post, with a clear computerised stamp of a post office, very far from his residence. The cost function was increased from Rs. 5 for normal post to Rs. 25 for speed post. But that was the last anonymous post from that gentleman. One way to avoid known obnoxious people, is to impose a higher cost function.

I have another encounter with anonymous emails, basically designed for pranks. I zeroed in on four boys. In all the emails in question, a particular word in English was invariably misspelt -each time, in the same way. I called all the boys separately and asked them to write that word. Only one boy, the most suave of them and son of a notable personality, committed the same mistake. When I tried to advise him not to repeat the practice of writing anonymous emails, he protested. When I explained my reasoning, I noticed in a sudden flash that he was carrying within a streak of violence and his eyes and facial expressions revealed more than what he could hide. I understood that this man, in spite of a good upbringing and decent outward appearance, has a darker side of his personality and a criminal intent.

In distant past, one of my not so close friends, brought to my notice a vicious mail, criticising and blaming me for reasons that I had no knowledge of. The sender was, one of my friends of long standing. I knew that he was jealous in nature, and always claimed that he was righteous, honest and hard working, though many of his colleagues held the opposite view. The viciousness on his part was totally unexpected. I got slightly perturbed and confronted him on phone. First he denied and then hung up the phone. Many of these bullies, back-biters are coward people. They damage you at your back but have no courage to face the mirror, put before them.

At a function, I met a high ranking technocrat. He appeared to be unhappy with IITs as an institution. He was proudly telling me that he avoids recruiting “useless IIT people”. I became suspicious. I innocently asked him what was his All India Rank in IIT entrance examination during his college days. He sheepishly told me that he could not crack that “useless IIT exam”.

In my long professional career, I met many such obnoxious characters. What surprised me that many of them are close associates and friends. Many of them were the fawning types. But they have one common characteristic. They are jealous, incompetent, suffer from inferiority complex, always ride on others, very self-serving and great chamcha types (sycophants).

They are very easily spotted when you are going through difficult times, especially career-wise, family-wise and health-wise. They get sadistic pleasure to see you in distress. They will jostle to give you sympathy. But actually they are enjoying your predicament from the ring-side. I heard a first hand account of a story of about a powerful senior technocrat in a PSU. When his aged mother expired, bus load of his colleagues accompanied him to the crematorium and graciously offered their shoulders to cry on. Unfortunately, after a few months, he himself expired after suffering a terrible heart attack. His family was left in a lurch to cremate his mortal remains, the crowd of colleagues was not there to accompany them for his last rites. All those well wishers who were readily available with a smile during his heyday, were not around when he was no more.

I learnt from my experience and wisdom, that these people are better to be ignored, without dropping your guard as they can be very ruthless. We should not overload ourselves with the psychological loads of bad experiences with such distasteful characters. We should not sacrifice our mental peace for such people. We have better things to concentrate on.

Syed Mujtaba Ali, was a class apart. He was an avid traveler, known for his travelogues. His million dollar advice: “If you want to travel farther, travel light”. This is applicable to all who want to achieve success in life. They should learn how to ignore those who try to spoil their peace of mind.


The author, Tapan Misra, is a distinguished scientist. At present, he is Advisor with the Department of Space, Government of India

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