A Special Visitor


This is a nice short story written by Bhopul (Debarnab Chatterjee of Class XI, 2019) on a hypothetical scenario where a special visitor takes his class for a day. 

That day had started like any other day. School had always been a fun experience for us, but we had no inkling of what was to happen that day. It was probably the biggest surprise we were going to get in our lives.

Homo Deus class was about to begin. We took our booklets and sat down, waiting for Ma’am to come and start her discussion. Today’s topic of discussion was about the future of humanity due to the rise of artificial intelligence.

Ma’am came into the class and told, “Today I am not going to take your class. Today somebody else is going to take your class. Somebody more interesting. Who can it be? Guess?”.

Urgi’s hand shot up.

“Who is it, Urgi?” Ma’am asked.

“Sir, right?” Urgi answered.

Mule too raised his hand, albeit a little sheepishly.

“I don’t think it is Sir. Sir very frequently comes and discusses bits and parts of the booklet with us. I think it is somebody from outside. Probably one of Sir’s friends,” Mule said.

“Wait Mule… Sir comes and discusses only bits and parts of the book with us in this class. He doesn’t discuss the whole time. So probably he is going to take our class today for the entire two hours,” Mollie contradicted.

“Okay…No need for so much of speculation! You will get to see who is going to take your class today, very soon,” Ma’am shouted, silencing the whole class.

Just then the door opened and a man walked in with Sir. At first glance I didn’t understand who the man was. But now that his face could be seen, I saw that the man was none other than the author of Homo Deus: Yuval Noah Harari himself.

Harari had always been present in our classroom. The man Harari may not have been there, but his ideas had dominated our classrooms.

My other friends, having understood the magnitude of the situation, gasped in surprise. After all it had been our dream to have an interactive session with Harari, or at the very least meet him.

Harari was wearing a grey blazer, which seemed too big to fit his measurements. He wore matte black shoes. He was wearing spectacles behind which twinkling and radiating intelligence, were two eyes.

Sir introduced us to Harari and told him that we were very big fans of him. On hearing that Sapiens and Homo Deus were a compulsory part of our school’s curriculum, he smiled broadly. He seemed delighted when he heard that some of us have also read “21 lessons for the 21st century.”

“Will you please introduce yourselves to me?” Harari asked. Everyone began introducing themselves by telling their names and the class they study in.

I had the impression that he was going to be an authoritative figure; after all, he was the author of such great books. But he seemed to be just the opposite — it seemed as if he didn’t like so much attention. He seemed satisfied to be here but he seemed awkward at the same time.

Ma’am gave him the booklet. He seemed to be impressed by the format of the booklet. He asked us what we were supposed to discuss. But the whole class seemed to be against the idea of discussing Homo Deus. We were more interested in just talking to him, talking about him.

“Can we not have the discussion today and instead just discuss about different stuff?” Urgi asked Ma’am.

“That’s not a very bad idea,” I said, voicing my support for Urgi.

“He’s here for a day. So shouldn’t you discuss his book with him rather than just talking?” Sir said.

“His book already explains his ideas beautifully. So shouldn’t we just use this opportunity to get to know him better?” Aritra said.

Sir seemed to accept this proposal, albeit with a bit of reluctance.

Immediately after Sir and Ma’am had taken their seats and Harari had taken the microphone in his hands, there was a show of hands. I could see that Mule was raising his hand with an impish grin on his face. He was the first one to ask — “We read in an interview that you don’t kill mosquitoes, but just catch them and send them out. Why do you do this?”

“I’m against the killing of animals in general, mosquitoes included.” Harari replied to Mule’s question.

“Why did you write Sapiens in the first place?” Arnab asked.

“Well, as many of you may be knowing, I teach at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I am a professor of history there. So, in one of my classes I had wanted to teach them about the history of humanity. As a reading material for the class, I had written some notes for the students. Later on these notes were compiled and published as the book ‘Sapiens’, that you read today.” Harari replied.

“You seem to be against the usage of smartphones and internet. But, do you yourself use smartphones?” Penta asked.

“I’m not really against the use of smartphones. They are the most revolutionary invention of this century — so far — and the internet has immense potential for doing good to society. However, all technology really does is to provide leverage. It will do good or bad depending on what we want it to do. Since it is in the interest of the most powerful people of this age to use technology to exploit, that is what it does. I’m not against the internet; it is merely a tool. But to answer your question, no, I don’t use a smartphone,” Harari replied.

Everyone was quiet for some time after Harari’s reply, trying to absorb and understand what he just said. I broke the silence by raising my hand, and asking, “How do you manage to undergo the two-months long rigorous Vipassanā meditation?” Urgi whispered to me, “Good question. We can’t survive without talking for two hours in the computer lab. How can he survive for two months?”

“I come to Mumbai to do Vipassanā meditation for two months every year. I find meditation to be particularly soothing. It helps me track my thoughts and helps me to understand myself and the world better. Once you start following your thought, meditation will seem easy,” Harari replied before seating down.

Now Sir came forward and told that Harari had to leave Suri to catch his flight to Mumbai. Harari had come here en-route to Mumbai, where he was going to do Vipassanā for the next two months.

Harari told that he was delighted to interact with us and would have liked to spend some more time, but he had to leave due to his tight schedule. He further mentioned that if possible, he would like to be here with us next year too.

***

Though this account is fictional, and Harari has not been here in the school in flesh and blood (and unlikely to be here in the future too, as he hates travel), he has always been teaching us. So are other stalwarts like Richard Dawkins (whose book Magic of Reality forms the basis of our First Science Lessons), Carl Sagan and Neil Tyson (through their TV series Cosmos), Jawaharlal Nehru (his writings inspired our First History Lessons).

If you want great teachers, you just need to reach out to them through their books!