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Being human

It was common knowledge that Indra was wealthy because she got dropped to school in a chauffeur-driven car. But I was ignorant of the other perks that a rich home provided.

“You don’t have to say thank you to her! She is our cook!” Fifty-plus years later, I can still hear those words in my ear, complete with the amusement with which it was delivered and the self-conscious giggles that emanated from the other girls.

I suppose the memory of this one-time visit to my classmate’s home has stayed because of the strong emotions that the remark evoked. I had felt diminished and foolish; and I was dismayed that because of my stupidity, the woman who had just served us a plate of snacks was within earshot of us and would have heard the remark. So, when she came up again with glasses of water, I looked up hesitantly, and was relieved to see her acknowledge me with a smile.

That minor incident did not break my habit. From shopkeeper to vegetable vendor and autorickshaw driver, I have said thank you to all. Over the years, I have learnt to say thank you with more words: “Thanks a bunch”, “Thanks a million”, “You made my day”, “My lucky day”. While sending out a message, the joined palms and heart symbols and the different emoticons do the talking! After years of sticking with these, it was a five-year-old’s sensitivity that made me realise that it is the emotion behind the words that reaches the recipient.

I was witness to a tiff between the little boy and his nine-year-old sister. “Nobody can know everything”, the girl declared with the authority of a big sister. “Alexa knows everything,” the boy shot back. “Alexa is not human. She is a machine,” the girl said. “No, she is a person!” the boy said vehemently. And in an instant, he turned towards the device and said “Alexa, I love you.” “That is nice of you to say,” replied the digital assistant. “See!” the boy said triumphantly, “she is kind!”

The child had a clear understanding of what tells apart a human from a machine! Compassion is a characteristic of humans! My mind jumped back to that day in my friend’s house and I understood the magic of that instant when my eyes met those of the humble woman.

kamalabalachandran199@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 1:13:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/being-human/article37838773.ece

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