On taking offence at a joke It was one of those cosy post-lunch gatherings which gave us ample opportunity to masticate not only the food we ate but the interesting events of our simple lives as well. In fact if anyone with a wee bit of literary skill in him sat through one such gathering of ours, he would produce a book that would remain the chart buster in Amazon for weeks. On that particular day that I started telling you about, one of my senior colleagues was narrating an incident of burglary that took place in his residential colony. He was one of the friendliest seniors with endearing qualities whose popularity rating amongst us was quite high. Whenever he had something to say, we always lent him our best ear. Coming back to the burglary incident, he was getting really over-excited when he described the event in its minute details. We all listened to him in rapt attention registering the appropriate sounds whenever he paused to take a breath to show we were with him. Finally he finished his tale that left us feeling as if we had just witnessed a combination of Chase a Crooked Shadow and Dial M for Murder. I broke the long silence that ensued with a question to him as to "how a thief from outside could come in when you were all there". Within a fraction of a second of my innocuous question, all hell broke loose. The smile that my senior colleague always wore just froze and his face became a deep crimson. His whole frame started shaking in fury as he launched a diatribe against me. He reviewed my whole career in a few choice epithets and in conclusion expressed his surprise about why and how the bank should feel obliged to retain a dim-witted imbecile like me on its role! My other friends who were in the room started melting away one by one leaving me alone to face his wrath. I just sat there speechless. I just did not understand what made him so angry. I was shocked to see the man, who we all revered as the best, coming out in such a strange colour. I slowly got up and left the room leaving him alone to expend his residual fury in any manner he thought fit. The mystery of what really caused him to get mad with me remained unsolved for a few days until I met again the friends who were witness to this sordid episode. We were just reviewing the incident and it was evident that our senior colleague who we all held in such high estimation had indeed lost that pre-eminent position. One of them then explained what caused the explosion. Do you remember my question to him? I asked him how a thief from outside came in when you were all there. What I meant was how an intruder could ever make an entry at a place that was crawling with people. But he laid special emphasis on the word ‘outside’ in my question and interpreted it as how a thief from OUTSIDE came in when you (interpreted as thieves inside) were all there! I was appalled at such a warped interpretation of a simple question and after hearing this, my senior colleague lost whatever little respect I had for him. G.C.Lichtenberg, a German physicist and writer, well known for his wonderful quotations once said “Nothing reveals a man’s character better than the kind of joke at which he takes offence”. My senior colleague perhaps thought I was having a dig at him with my ill-timed joke. Even if he thought so, he could have just laughed it off and risen further in our estimation. But by choosing to interpret my question in the most peculiar manner and feeling offended by it, he had only committed hara-kiri of his own character. I felt sorry for him but since he felt offended by what he thought was an outright insult, I owed him an apology. So when I met him again, I offered him my unconditional apology which he accepted with his familiar smile and a pat on my shoulders. His smile was as charming as ever but it did not touch my heart.