This happened a while ago. There was an ‘official’ email that was to be sent to a person I had never met. Which is nothing new, of course. I just had to make a request for a certain piece of information, and as such, it was the most mundane and ordinary mail you could think of. Sprinkle it with the adequate number of Thank yous and Pleases, and I would have sent it without a second’s thought.

But a few minutes before I even composed it, someone I work with called me up and said, ‘Be careful how you write. That person has a history of being offended at the slightest (in some cases, imagined) things and being rude for no reason, and has created many enemies. You wouldn’t want to make a mistake.’

As a result, the email that should have gone within three minutes, went two hours later, after I bit my nails to shreds and pulled my hair out, trying to polish my single-line request so that there was nothing remotely offensive about it. The overload of Thankyous and pleases and sorrys and outpouring of infinite gratitude must have sounded like I was begging on my knees. Better be undignified than sorry, was my excuse.

Everything went smooth and our further exchanges were cordial. (Later I heard several stories about this person – with evidence – that justified my colleague’s warning. Apparently, anyone who has to communicate with the person in question finds it better to fall to their knees and beg forgiveness even before they have made contact.)

Scene II. If the protagonist of the above story was around my own age, the next one is much older. If the former exploded only if there was something mildly offensive in our actions, the latter found offence even where none of it could possibly exist. We would jump backwards and ask each other, ‘what exactly had I said that provoked this outburst?’

You never know whence the explosion is coming. You just know it is.

Scene III. A lady contacted us for assistance with a work. And we told her not to worry, ippa sheriyaakki tharaam. Two months later, when she sent a polite reminder, I realised that it had completed slipped down our ‘list of priority tasks’. This went on a couple of times. (Every time she sent a reminder, she would begin with an apology for disrupting our busy schedules.) Finally after almost six months (in our defense, not all of them were our delays), she allowed herself to become mildly irritated, and that spurred me into action. I kicked a few … and got the job going. She showered me with Thank yous when it was done.

The explosive ones – in other words, the crying babies – get what they need. The pushovers wait and wait and wait, and they apologise for their waiting.

As a powerful person once said, you get more things done with fear than with love. (But as someone else added, it all depends on what you want.)