For more than a decade I have participated in ISRO’s recruitment process in almost in all capacities. For decades I have been participating and conducting technical reviews in ISRO and many other institutions. I have realised that for some reason or other we suffer from a collective deficiency: we need to master the art of questioning as well as answering. I firmly believe getting a right answer has a precondition of being asked a right question.
Many a times the questioner is reticent. There are many reasons. The person himself may be very much aloof from the subject and he is not even interested to know or probe the subject even from superficial levels. Any interaction with anybody, whether job interview or promotion interview or technical review or even a simple interaction, is a great opportunity of learning a new information. Many if us lack the ability of extrapolative intelligence, learning a subject quickly by filling information gap with our innate intelligence, intuition and imagination.
We are also hesitant in asking questions lest our ignorance gets exposed. It comes from lack of self confidence. We feel, if our ignorance is exposed or gets caught, people will have less respect for us. We also have sometimes superlative idea of self as omniscient and we do not want this idea to crumble under public gaze.
There are people with bloated egos. They want to prove that the person, in front, is of lesser significance and hence of lesser consequence. They ask irrelevant questions deliberately, with no relation to subject matter or the person involved. They quickly switch the question even before the person in front started answering.
There are also some people with a firm belief in the dictum: asking costs nothing. They themselves have little extrapolative intelligence and poor ability to convert assorted information to succinct learning. In their effort to understand the subject, they go on asking staccato of questions and finally get confused from assorted variety of equally useless answers. Normally from this style of questioning, you can quickly identify the stature of the questioner – he must be one of the bosses. I remember in our childhood, on the way from school we used to (ad)venture into stealing mangoes from private orchards. With our childish lack of ability of aiming, we used to throw volley of small stones, bricks and pebbles towards the canopy. Only a sheer luck would gratify us with one or two rare mangoes in spite of our valiant efforts. Seeing such questioning prowess, rekindles my childhood memories.
In our childhood, we used to listen to songs, recorded on circular discs of music records, on gramophone. Sometimes the replay pin used to get stuck in one particular track and annoyingly same line of song used to repeat for ever. I used to encounter many a questioners who used to be fond of asking the same question again and again, whose answer they are aware of, irrespective of the subject under discussion or the interview candidate in front of. I used to get amused that these people tended to feign solemn facial contortions to hide their banality, which they were eminently aware of.
There are professional committee men and women. They attend various committees. They jot down the questions asked and make a diary full of question banks. When they attend any review meeting, they furtively turn a random page of the question bank, more akin to soothsayer parrot picking tarot prediction, printed on a set of cards. One should see the enjoyment on their faces at the sight of flabbergasted character in front of them.
Another set of queer characters can be seen in job interview committees. Before the interview, they go through GATE ( Graduate Aptitude Test of Engineering) help books, popular among students. They are the most helpful interviewer for the job applicants. They ask sure-shot questions, answers for which are already prepared by the candidates.
Most interesting are quintessential committee men, who cannot be employed for any useful job and so their nuisance values are kept in check by engaging them in all sorts of committees, specially in standing committees. I knew one such gentleman, who in his jobless hours used to keep the door of his cabin wide open, waiting for an unsuspecting character passing by, more in the style of professional angler. If he could manage to catch one, he will eat away his minimum one hour time by asking all sorts of questions ranging from his parents to schooling to research work. If this gentleman could catch hold of three or four such unsuspecting characters in a day, he could go back home, satisfying himself that he has earned his day’s living. He became quite dreaded. Seeing his cabin door open, other people, specially the younger ones, used to make a detour or scamper past his door in lightning speed.
One story goes about this gentleman. It seems, it was a very hopeless and jobless day when nobody could be caught hold of by this gentleman. One stray dog used to trespass the lab corridor occasionally. That day, this unsuspecting canine peeped into the the door wide open. The gentleman lured it with a piece of biscuit, cornered the dog in one side behind his chair and started bombarding it with all sorts of questions. That poor animal some how extricated itself from the room and darted off, with its tail solidly tucked away between its hind legs. That was the last the poor canine was sighted in the lab corridor.
Tapan Misra is a distinguished scientist and Advisor in the Department of Space, Government of India. Earlier, he was Director Space Application Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad.