Coming from experience I can say that one thing that is freely available is unsolicited advice. Be it a health problem, waywardness of a youngster in the family or a question of which market or shop to go and buy a particular item or gift. It could even be a simple thing like which shaving cream one should use.
Just put a question to a person, known or unknown, and like Google he or she will reel out several suggestions and answers in no time. It’s also interesting that when you seek advice from a particular person, many other people will rush to volunteer advice.
I don’t know if this phenomenon is limited to a particular region. An amusing fact is that even if the question warrants a response from a specialist or expert, it is answered by any Tom, Dick and Harry at a bus stop with the ease and conviction of an expert.
Should a man sitting next to you overhear you struggling with some legal issue, chances are that he will butt in uninvited and offer you advice like a professional lawyer. He will tell you that he us speaking from experience. The unsolicited advice will be capped with a “whether you agree or don’t agree is up to you!”
How would you describe this trend? Well, even though it might be irksome at times, unsolicited counsel should be welcomed. After all, the stranger is trying to be helpful. How can you disregard such a selfless gesture? Nevertheless, it’s also true that quite often the enthusiasm shown by ‘honorary advisers’ causes confusion.
My neighbour Shankar Lal tells me that he was having lunch in his office canteen when his wife called him up to inform that their 12-year-old son had suddenly developed high fever and body ache.
As he got up to leave for home telling his colleagues the reason, he was bombarded with all kinds of diagnoses — and suggestions — to treat the boy.
Air of authority
One fellow attributed it to the sudden change in weather which need not cause any worry. “It will pass off,” he said, but not before ‘prescribing’ an easily available allopathic tablet as also a home-made ayurveda concoction. “Give it to him and you will find your son back to normal and running around like a deer,” he said with an air of authority.
Another well-wisher pointed to the epidemic raging in the city and advised him to take the boy straight to a good hospital. But the suggestion was opposed by another adviser who wanted Shanker to take his son to a good private practitioner instead as he thought hospitals were no good. He even named a “good doctor” who happened to be his family physician.
All this happened as the ailing boy waited for his father at home.
The phenomenon of getting unsolicited free advice and suggestions is best exemplified when you happen to ask somebody about how to reach a certain place.
Take my own case: While driving to a city some 40 km away we got caught in the maze of flyovers built over existing roads. With construction work still in progress and darkness having descended it was difficult to locate the right direction.
Finding a group of persons, who looked like factory workers, waiting for public transport, we stopped near them. I asked only one of the many for direction but four or five came forward.
One of them very enthusiastically advised me: “Go straight … turn left at the second road crossing... you come to a flyover ... when you come down take a u-turn ... then ...”
The young man was curtly interrupted by another person who chided him. “Hey, what are you telling them? The road is in a very bad condition there. That route will land them in trouble ... No, sir, you do as I tell you ... go straight ... like this ... after about three km you will find a car showroom on the left ... and then ...”
He too was interrupted by yet another ‘helpful’ man who pushed the two apart saying they were misleading us. This third person came closer to our car window to tender “proper advice”. But apprehending that their exuberance might only land us in trouble we drove off straight hoping to find the right guide at the left turn.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.