"No…no…no…no", said the man across the table making his position on the subject under discussion amply clear. To reiterate the point he had just made and to prevent any room for ambiguity, he handed me back my letter of request with an air of finality that did not leave scope for any further discussion.
This did not surprise me. I have for some reason always had to live in a state of perpetual denial by people sitting across the table. For one reason or the other, people in positions of authority and I, have never been the best of pals. And like charity, denial for me, has begun at home. More often than not, the wife has returned even my simple prayers for an outing with friends or a game of golf (believe it or not, am still at it!), with a 'NO' stamped in bold and underlined for added effect!
While the wife is always straight forward and uncomplicated in her responses, my boss likes to take his time over requests made. He realises well that a 'NO' said in haste, takes away the fun quotient out of denying subordinates their wishes. And so he receives all applications in grace, gives an impression that he is deeply engrossed in evaluating the various deeply disturbing possibilities that would emerge as a consequence of acceding to the request, and then with a pain that remains symbolic of the burden any one at his 'level' has to endure, says 'NO'!
I remember to this day with clarity the day this cycle of denial began in my life in right earnest. I could not have been a day older than my daughter's age. But unlike my little one who is growing up in the Information Age and even at her early years, has complete access to a range of media and other channels, I grew up in splendid isolation without the benefit of inputs at the end of a 'remote'.
Rising across the haze of childhood dreams is that early sense of pain and denial when my father gently but single mindedly prevented me from tying myself up at the end of half a dozen fire cracker 'rockets' that I had painstakingly assembled in my bid to go over the tall mango tree that grew next to our house. The anguish of not being able to try other similar but refreshingly innovative ideas on myself and other cousins, remains an area of abiding distress to this day.
And that is not to forget the series of deprivations at school and elsewhere. The one that stands out amongst those many many others though, has to be the steadfast denial of the opportunity to 'visit' the wash room from time to time. Despite my real need at most times, the teachers almost always felt I was merely looking out for ways to 'cut' classes. What hurt most, was the way in which some of my other classmates never had to go through the agony of having to hold back. Who says 'faces' don't matter in the real world?
Talking of faces, the adolescent and later years have to be amongst the most painful. That was the time when everyone else seemed to be getting all the attention one thought should have come one's way. The history of denials and polite NOs of that period are far too painful to even recount.
You will agree there is a certain cruel finality about a 'NO' that is frightening. And even if a denial becomes imperative it can be explained gently. I recall with disgust the manner in which one of my former bosses made a great show of his familiarity with the military lingo when to a simple request from a junior colleague for permission to leave station on a weekend, he simply wrote November Oscar (NO), and sent the leave application back without bothering to explain his difficulties.
Little do we realise that within each one of us is the power to make others happy. Strange isn't it the way we yearn to see a rainbow in the sky but fail to impart life rainbow colours, despite having the ability to do so. Affixing a November Oscar to proposals received from subordinates or people who come to us in times of need, is perhaps the easiest of options. It is, however, our ability to say NO gently, or a YES, despite adversities, that will stand us apart.
Or if you are like my ex-boss, militarily inclined and all that, try Yankee Echo Sugar! Wouldn't that be sweet?
(R) thedailystar.net 2006