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`I used to be a wannabe Genghis Khan'

Introducing, the Proust Questionnaire, a fortnightly feature. These questions were most famously answered by the French writer Marcel Proust, whose personalityrevealing responses came to define this form of celebrity confession. This fortnight's questionnaire was administered by BARADWAJ RANGAN.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Honesty. Also over-touted. When someone introduces himself as honest, I mutter to myself, "There comes another crook."

* * *

What is your idea of happiness?

It is something that you attain, sometimes in cycles, and at most times it is a vast variety of things. Happiness is very closely related to greed. Happiness is perhaps painlessness, a state one rarely appreciates. Happiness, then, is very much like a great talent. It rarely gets appreciated and is taken for granted

What is your greatest extravagance?

That sudden attack of honesty that sometimes rises up with my bile. What is your favourite journey? I am at it. Life.

What is your greatest fear?

Even after denouncing the gods, ghosts still haunted me. Not the holy ones, fortunately. Then I lost them both. Both have great advertisements and are hard not to buy. I, like all, suffered the campaigns from childhood. The creation of god itself, I deduced, came from our primal fear. The most feared thing should be death but after a lot of rumination, I have settled to fear incessant pain. It is not a screaming-hysterically kind of fear but a silently lurking one. Whether my own body or anybody threatens me with pain, I try to avoid it shamelessly - at the peril of my alleged valour. I presume that is why torture still works. Even nearly 1,500 years after the crucifixion that killed their god, the Vatican practised it vigorously during the Spanish inquisition. Our Shaivites precede that with mass impalements of the Jains. Our politicians still resort to the use of pain. Yes, it is not even the inevitable death but the insufferable pain that I fear. It is built into my DNA. Again, it does seem like I also fear short answers. I presume it is a reaction to the fear of being misconstrued.

Which living person do you most admire?

I will refrain from answering this question as I live. Death venerates anyone. So I shall wait.

Which living person do you most despise?

The one who hangs on the same ledge just above me and won't lend a helping hand. I guess he would say the same if the levels we hang out of are reversed.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I used to be a wannabe Genghis Khan and will always be that. He never lost any battles. Then I swung to the other side of the spectrum and settled on Mr. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Now I realise I should identify myself with those who strengthen my argument. So I have a huge list and that would mean I have quite a huge argument to put forward.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Lack of patience or the will to wait. Who is your favourite painter? As long as I own cars and walls, it will always be the most economical one. Moving picture painters are the most costly.

On what occasion do you lie?

Mostly at interviews. It preserves my true identity.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

The first ten minutes. Then I am into the story.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Mediocrity. That is a very useful word in my world. I practice it often to keep company. I am a gregarious person. I love people without any distinction as well.

What is your greatest regret?

None now. In my formative years, I used to regret that there were no miracles, only tricks. My motto for life was as yet incomplete. Thanks to politics and Indians in general it is now finished.

What is your favourite motto?

The question above robbed me of this answer. Complaining about its loss loudly seems like a good alternative.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Your interviewee.

When and where were you happiest?

The previous time always. What is your present state of mind? Clark Kent with no telephone booth in sight. Everyone's got a mobile. No room for change How would you like to die? Like everyone, I guess. Remember to stop breathing before the deed.

Kamal Haasan has spent a half-century under the arc lights and has acted in over 200 films in several Indian languages. He has won three National Awards for Best Actor and has been decorated with the Padma Shri. His last release was the 2010 Tamil film Manmadhan Ambu.

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