The most ridiculous phrase in the English language, I discovered very early in life, was “I know a shortcut.” My father was famous for knowing shortcuts; only these took us longer to get from Place A to Place B. We would be moving smoothly through traffic, my sister and I either fighting in the backseat of the car or hitting each other joyously every time we spotted a white car (the game continues to be popular, I can’t imagine why), and then suddenly those dreaded words would be spoken by my father: “I know a shortcut.”

That would be the signal for my mother, sitting in front, to groan, and for the two of us at the back to stop whatever we were doing and cheer. At that age you prefer car rides to be longer, to see adults lose their way, and watch the confusion on the faces of those we stopped beside so my father could ask, “How do we get to _?”

Then came college and “I know a shortcut” continued to taunt. Only this time, it wasn’t about directions, but about fiddling results in the science laboratory working backwards from what we were expected to get as the answer and filling in the steps up to the start. Someone would invariably utter that painful phrase, and that would be that. End of class.

When my son was still at an age when he thought his parents knew everything because he realised with wonder they knew how to multiply any figure by nine, “I know a shortcut” was received with excitement. Till of course there came a time when my promised shortcut meant he had to stay with his homework for longer than usual.

Today shortcuts are all about fixing gadgets. And it is my wife who gives me the look my mother gave my father when he said, “I know a shortcut.” A look that combines pity with irritation framed by what can only be described as the expression of a long-suffering spouse. Knowing shortcuts – and then proving that you don’t – is clearly a genetic thing.

From washing machines that sound funny and dish washers that refuse to wash dishes and vacuum cleaners that don’t clean vacuums, I have known shortcuts to fixing which haven’t helped.

Perhaps the trouble is not with me. Perhaps shortcuts come with built-in systems that make them useless. Still, when my wife says her phone has stopped receiving messages and could I see what’s wrong with it, I can’t resist saying, “I know a shortcut.” She would be disappointed if I didn’t say that. There are no shortcuts to shortcuts.

More from Suresh Menon:

Sound reasons for giving up on a neighbour

When old friends return to haunt you

Panic. Sometimes that is the best way