I have reached that stage in life when I know

a. I will not win the Nobel Prize

b. I will certainly not play Test cricket

c. It is unlikely that I shall be flying through the air wearing a cape and boasting of X-ray vision

d. etc.

The list is a long one, and mentally I am adding more letters in my mind (that is one thing I can do at any stage). Does that mean – somebody once asked this question at a party (you remember those things you would go to in the pre-Covid days?) – does that mean that you have no ambitions left?

That is not as horrible as it sounds. As you get older, the tone and texture of your ambitions change gradually but regularly. I went from dreaming of being a chauffeur to living in the jungle like Tarzan to discovering an economic principle while writing my thesis in physics and playing first-class cricket. So ambitions are not stationary things.

It is easy, however, to make that mistake. Frankly, the number of things I can do is a long list too, and some of the things on it cannot be mentioned in a family magazine. But I have one unfulfilled ambition that could still come to fruition. And that – hold your breath – is to be the answer to a clue in a crossword puzzle. I had forgotten all about this till I read a clue recently that asked for a five-letter word ending in ‘on’ .

It was something about a ‘noble gas’. I thought my name fit the bill perfectly, although it was a bit annoying to have my speeches and writings referred to as a ‘gas’.

But then, it was ‘noble’, and well, I was happy to take that. Who doesn’t like to be known as noble? I wasn’t a boring gas nor was I a mind-numbing gas, after all. I wrote down my name in the crossword. It turns out I was eighty per cent right. The first letter was ‘X’. That noise my neighbours complained of was the sound of my dreams crashing.

A friend in Dubai (an amateur crossword setter, if that’s what those who set crosswords are called) cheered me up recently with an anagram that he thinks can connect "the second personal name of a citizen of ancient Rome that indicated the gens to which he or she belonged eg Marcus Tullius Cicero" and this Friday columnist. The first is ‘Nomen’, which, as you will readily see is an anagram for something else.

Keep an eye open is my advice. If you come across that clue in a crossword you know the answer. You read it here first.

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