I shall make no promises this time - except please do not be intimidated by that '- I' business. This is a self-contained post and no prior knowledge is required (and do not listen to those evil beings that say 'no brains required either') nor would you be left hanging unless you read the subsequent parts like one of those fantasy trilogies. Believe me, I had intended to finish off with "How are you?" also in the last post but - what can I say? - the words ran away with me.
This question - 'How are you?' - is really not an invitation to start with that pain in your big toe that you get from an impacted toe nail and work your way up to the sharp twinges in your knees, that dyspeptic feeling in your stomach which feels so much like a heart attack and that dull ache above your eyebrows which presages a migraine (the morning after without the night before). Not even if you finish off saying, "Other than all that I am fine". Unless of course you are an in-patient in a hospital - in which case the chap who asks you "How are you?" considers that as a mere preliminary to launching into a series of tales about his aunts, uncles, cousins and other such fauna who have all come to miserable ends after suffering exactly what you are suffering and ends with "Don't worry! You will be all right!" Not that the last statement reassures you.
Apparently the proper answer to that "How are you?" is a "How are you?' again. Seems like a game of oneupmanship. As though you thought, "You are not the only one who can show concern for me. I can show concern for you as well. Now stuff that in your pipe and smoke it." But that is the appropriate polite behavior apparently. What I have found is you ask this only when you mean, "I could not care less if you dropped dead of a heart attack right now". With people whom you actually cared about, you would be asking about specific ailments or just launch into a conversation without this preliminary. Maybe they started using this in more violent times merely to say "I did not come here of a purpose to kill you this time, so let us both relax".
As if that phrase were not enough, I had to deal with an answer to that question that I started hearing only after I shifted to Delhi. "Bus aapke chatra chaye mein" which literally translates to "In the shadow of your umbrella" and figuratively means "Safe under your aegis". Now when I first heard this I must admit to a feeling of fear - it seemed to me like the chap was saddling me with the responsibility of taking care of him and his family. Thankfully I refrained from voicing a hasty demurrer about how ill-equipped I was to take care of even myself. Later, of course, it seeped into me that this was yet another of those phrases that people say without any regard to what it literally or figuratively meant.
Huh! This has run into one whole post as well. About time I released you into the world to spray your How-are-yous indiscriminately.