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Brighter Than a Thousand Suns

Manish Nandy | New Delhi |

Iam fortunate. I have a very good friend right next door.

I am a pre baby boomer: in common parlance, as old as the hills. She is not Generation X, not even Millennial, but Generation Z – she is just eight, yet to join school.

She does home studies and reads quite well now, though words of multiple syllables are a challenge for her. She does additions and multiplications too, but I am not sure she is enamoured of doing them.

What is no challenge for her are the iPad and iPhone, which she manipulates like a pro and has no compunction pointing out my ineptitude. She uses drawing programs to sketch animals and angels, and plays an array of video games, from sprinters that race winding castle alleys to choleric birds that fight and shoot and play havoc in pig fortresses.

To keep company I have occasionally tried to learn these games, but my skill level hardly rises after abundant instruction and diligent practice. My scores leave my young teacher disgusted and in despair. “You have to practice more,” she advises.

She has a pixie face, crystal-bright eyes and long hair, usually in a braid, but sometimes bound in a bun to let her do gymnastics. Oh, yes, gymnastic skill is another of her many accomplishments, in dramatic contrast to my gauche ways. She underlines the contrast by cartwheeling effortlessly in the living room and sitting on the kitchen floor to display nimble contortions.

The more important skill is the readiness with which she proceeds to prepare tea for me the moment I tread into their home. She will get on a stool to reach the water heater on the counter and then stir the tea vigorously and serve in exactly the china I prefer. Most of the time she even remembers to retrieve the empty cup from my hand.

As if this were not enough, she runs to open the door for me and switches on a radiant smile before her parents have had a chance to say, “Come in, please.” That smile is, as the ancient Indian texts say, brighter than a thousand suns, and enough to keep me warm on the coldest fall day. I am really a fortunate neighbour.

(The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected].)