Our handwriting is as individual to us as our fingerprints or facial features. It can, according to experts known as graphologists, be accurately interpreted to reveal information about even our deepest, darkest secrets.
You have possibly heard about such handwriting analysts and dismissed them as quacks, or pigeonholed them along with palm readers, astrologers and other fairground practitioners because, really, how can the way we write tell anyone anything worth knowing? If that’s your take on it, a sit-down with Dubai’s Sujit Sukumaran might at least get you questioning what you think you know about graphology.
Not wishing to have my own mind clouded by negativity, I stay away from internet verdicts before meeting Sukumaran, so I really don't know what to expect. But it turns out that the 33-year-old is no cosmic weirdo – rather, he's a master's-educated HR professional, published author, TED speaker and person of determination.
"You can probably tell I have cerebral palsy," he says as I join him in a restaurant. I actually can't, although he assures me it is obvious when he walks. He says that when he was born, he was two months premature and weighed about a kilo, spending his first two weeks of life on a ventilator in a hospital special baby care unit. "They didn't think I would live more than a few days and I was discovered to have cerebral palsy, spastic diplegia, which affects my legs," he says.
Sukumaran credits his late father (who died at the age of 45, when his son was 15) with his inspirational ability to not be put off from setting lofty personal goals and reaching them. It's obvious that he's not the kind of person who takes no for an answer, and it was following one of his many surgeries that his interest in handwriting began to take hold.
"I had my back opened up when I was 7 for an operation to reduce my spasticity, and until then I probably had the neatest handwriting in my class. But after the surgery, my writing looked like a Richter scale readout, and my quest began to get my handwriting back to where it used to be."
It was during this personal crusade, he says, that he stumbled across graphology and was instantly curious. "I was fascinated by it," he says. "The way my handwriting could be interpreted to show my physical and emotional condition. And the more I studied it, the more accurate I saw it to be."
There are limitations of course. “We can’t guess gender from writing samples and we’re not fortune tellers. There’s still a degree of scepticism – I’d say about 20 per cent dismiss graphology outright, but for me, the tragedy is that so many people see no point in it. [They think]: ‘Who writes these days, anyway?’.”
Sukumaran says that just as a small vial of blood will allow a specialist to carry out only limited tests, a signature will reveal only so much – for a detailed analysis, a full page is required. There's a shelf life, though: he says a handwriting sample is valid for up to 15 days and that he's able to accurately see underlying health problems, as well as predict what might happen to the writer in the next 40 days, from simply reading their words.
This is the point where a sceptic might start referring to the word "pseudoscience". But I give him the benefit of the doubt – without telling him anything about the author, I pass him a piece of paper covered with handwritten notes by a former colleague. Within a minute, my jaw is on the table.
“Straight away I can see this person is very domineering,” he says, “and it doesn’t matter what your opinion is regarding anything. This individual has quite a caustic demeanour, so that even if he or she is correct in what they’re saying, the way they say it can burn a lot of bridges. They don’t mince words. There’s an obsession with nitty-gritty, for pointing out the faults of others.
“The way the Ds are constructed shows this person is under a lot of pressure from others, and the Ts are low-stroked so they’re not very confident in their own work.”
He says the bigger the loops of letters such as Ls and Ts, the more the writer is sensitive to criticism. "The writer here is the kind of person who only accepts criticism from someone they feel is more qualified in certain matters."
The clincher comes next. "You see the way the dots over the Is are always slanted backwards? That shows this person is a procrastinator; [yet] someone who expects others to have completed their work the day before yesterday; and they're psychotic in a way that you might get emails from them at 2.30am. You can give this person your work, which they demand instantly, and it will sit on their desk for three weeks before it's looked at."
I'm laughing out loud now, and he continues to give insight after insight, not all of which is negative – the person in question is someone I like a great deal, but the foibles exposed here are absolutely spot on. And when I pass him a page of my own writing, compiled a couple of hours before our meeting, he tells me details about my personal and working life that are so intimate I cannot possibly share them here. But again, he's spookily accurate, and I get the overwhelming feeling I'm in a therapy session.
“I’ve had husbands and wives who are in business together, and both hire me separately,” he says with a laugh. “So I do have to tread a fine line and not get wrapped up in personal matters. But my services are used to measure romantic compatibility, insurance claim validity, recruitment suitability, document forgery analysis – as much as I like doing the pop psychology bit, I’m a very serious practitioner of graphology.”
What I struggle with is the insistence that by making a conscious effort to change one's handwriting (such as stroking through your Ts as high up the letter as possible), you can make changes to your health and life in general.
As our meeting draws to a close, he recalls a time recently when he was asked to work with a number of UAE schools on cases to do with what's known as the "Blue Whale Challenge" – an online game that encourages children, usually via social media, to play along, accepting increasingly difficult challenges during a period of 50 days. The end result, for many youngsters around the world, has been fatal injuries and even suicide.
“We were working with a few schools,” he confides, “and found, without anyone telling us, at least 10 kids at each school who were involved, just by going through their handwriting. And we got them into therapy.”
While I cannot in all sincerity say that I'm totally convinced, if what he says is true and that children here are still alive because of his graphology expertise, then he gets my vote. As entertaining as it is to hear about a colleague's foibles, or our own, from the mouth of a stranger, the real-world, practical applications of this discipline might well have something positive to offer, whether we believe in it or not.