“Ma’am, can you on the A/C?” The ‘on’ had been converted into an action verb sometime in the late sixties when the school was started.
The words rang loud and clear in the quiet exam hall, and all thirty-six girls stopped writing and looked up at me expectantly.
I paused my hand that had stretched automatically towards the little red ‘power on’ button. “Can I switch on the A/C, what, child?”
She looked at me with utter incomprehension.
“You forgot to add something there – a little magic word.” I clarified. I could see comprehension dawning on many faces around her, but she still did not get it.
“Magic word?” Her brows knit as she tried to decipher the Latin I was speaking.
Her classmate nudged her from behind. “Say ‘please’,” she whispered urgently.
“Hmm…yes. Say ‘please’, please. P-L-E-A-S-E. Ever heard of it?” The one thing I’ve learned in my years in classrooms is that irony works where teacherly advice doesn’t.
“Oh!” She looked at me as if to say: Is that all? Alright, I’ll indulge you this once. I’ve better things to do than you obviously do. “Please Ma’am, can you on the A/C?”
I ‘onned’ the A/C, and all was well. The girls went back to their exam paper with a collective sigh, and the brief interlude was forgotten in a minute.
Once upon a time, ‘please’, thank you’ and ‘sorry’ used to be among some of the first lessons in life. Politeness and civility have certainly become obsolete concepts today. Forgotten magic words are just the tip of the iceberg. In our hurry, we forget to hold the door open for the person behind us; we pass the child who is squatting on the ground trying to gather her scattered books without a second glance. We see the kid in front of us drop the chocolate wrapper on the corridor, but we can’t be bothered to ask him to pick it up. Our children think that ‘S-H-I-T’ is an automatic extension of ‘Oh-‘, and meant to be said even when a pencil falls down from their hand…
When I started this blog, I had done so with all the enthusiasm of a first-grader who had suddenly discovered story books. In my naiveté, I looked up my address list and added to the mailing list the ids of my friends and acquaintances who I thought would take the time to read what I had to write. Among them was the id of a Young Intellectual whose chosen profession required him to sift through people’s writing looking for gems there.
The high of the blog wore off once I discovered that my wandering thoughts were not as interesting to the world as they were to me. Soon it was just a medium to think aloud, and my very few loyal supporters gave me their opinion on this or that that I wrote about, and I was contented. Since it was my son who had helped me through the technical aspects of the blog, I had forgotten all about the mailing lists.
After some five posts or so, I got this mail from my YI acquaintance that was all of one sentence long. It stated in no uncertain terms: Please stop sending me these links. Below was the link to my blog that WordPress had sent him automatically when I had posted my latest bit of writing. To say that the mail shocked me would be an understatement. No, it wasn’t the fact that my non-Pulitzer-winning writing did not interest his literary self, it was the fact that he actually chose this method to express it that appalled me. There were so many ways he could have avoided reading the blog…
I wonder which part of being a Young Intellectual required a person to be rude, the Young part or the Intellectual part…
Dick Francis is among my list of favourite authors, and I completely identify with him when he says: I’d always found goodness more interesting then evil, though I was aware this wasn’t the most general view. To my mind, it took more work and more courage to be good, an opinion continually reinforced by my own shortcomings. ― Comeback
I know, I know – ‘evil’ is too strong a word here. Let me modify it then; I certainly find politeness more appealing than bad manners, intellectual or no intellectual.
So say ‘please’, please.