Minority Report: Clumsy discovery


Minority Report: Clumsy discovery

So there actually are self-tests to ascertain accident proneness. I found a credible one on the Psychology Today website—a 20-minute test involving 46 questions.

“The tendency towards accident proneness is a function of behavioural, attitudinal and personality factors…,” said a foreword, adding that such assessments help people analyse if they take unwise physical risks and accordingly modify their responses.

At the end, a score places you somewhere on the scale of the two extremes (determined by your answers) of a particular behaviour, giving you a fair idea of your “response-ability”.

I must be nuts—you could be thinking—to spend so much time on self tests. Well, having spent much of the weekend wondering if I am indeed nuts, let me not entirely disagree. My doubt stems from increasing accident proneness, leading me to frequent injury and embarrassment before colleagues, not to mention the inconvenience it causes others around me.

Last week, I suffered burns on my arm. I wasn’t careful enough with a boiling kettle while making coffee. I was neither groggy with sleep, nor was I drugged. I stood there getting scalded by the steam before reacting.


But just some weeks ago, one of my stray dog friends nicked me, deeply enough for our neighbourhood doctor to suggest that I take three anti-rabies shots. I am friendly with a group of dogs and feed them every day; I even claim to know their individual habits well, which should give me an edge in predicting their reflexes. So, petting one and feeding another simultaneously wasn’t smart. The dog was hardly to blame.


Had these incidents been as simple and silly as they perhaps sound here, I wouldn’t have had the pluck to write this column. My experience with accidents has been more complex than that. I have been accident-prone since early childhood, having needed numerous emergency room visits.

About a decade ago, while having tea on the terrace of a hotel in Shimla, we sat back to watch some children play with a small rubber ball—called the crazy ball—on the other side of the terrace.

Soon, the ball—crazy alright—shot out towards a glass window, bounced back and landed on my face, crushing the glass of my specs on my nose.

Given the safe distance we were from the children, nobody could offer any logic behind this accident.

In my former job at The Indian Express, while chatting with other journalists in office, I suddenly found myself on the floor. The legs of the revolving chair had given away. I ended up with a lot of laughter (someone advised me to first get up and then finish laughing) and a chipped elbow bone.

I had no idea how I had contributed to that disaster, so I reluctantly agreed that it must be “bad luck”.

All revolving chairs were inspected after that and new ones replaced the old and the cranky. Good for us.

It wasn’t as good though when walking once with my husband on the pedestrian pathway in a busy Delhi market, I was hit from the back by a speeding motorcycle. I went flying before crashing with a big thud, mandating a straight drive to the hospital.

We had gone shopping for Diwali saris, a ritual my husband and I fondly follow. That was perhaps the first time in many years that I hadn’t liked any sari and had walked out a bit wistful.

“Let’s go and buy a sari as soon as you feel well,” said my husband, ascribing the bizarre event to some superstition while laughing uproariously about my Diwali in bed.

But this time, after extensive reading on accident proneness, where words like “clumsy” and “cognitive failures” constantly come up, these incidents make sense to me.

I am the type who could drop a pair of slippery rubber gloves, trip on upturned footwear or mistake any red car for my own. Yet, no power on earth can convince me to cross a road till the lights turn green for pedestrians. The appropriately named “Cognitive Failures Questionnaire” designed by British experimental psychologist Donald Broadbent can sense such complexity in cognitive responses.

From now, I have promised myself to become “mindfully” alert (a phrase used by experts) to prevent the next burn or the next motorcycle knock-off.

But even as we laugh at me, let’s know that there are a number of reasons behind cognitive failures.

They range from prescription medicines that make you dizzy and drowsy, neurological causes that slow down reflexes even in the face of danger to psychological ones like depression or risk-tendencies to enable self-harm.

For myself, I prefer “clumsy”. It’s more forgiving than “cognitive failure” and hopefully easier to repair.