‘Machines are going to take over the world’, screamed a recent newspaper headline. The point of reference was robots powered by artificial intelligence. The article hysterically claimed that machines will take over our jobs as a start and then eventually gain control over every aspect of our existence. Many Hollywood movies and books have created elaborate commercial narrative with success around this notion. Whether this happens or not only time will tell. However, I do believe that machines will take away the chores from our daily lives, enabling us to do a lot more!
This post is not about the future of machines but a rather quirky connect that I have with the word “machine” while I was growing up.
We had a house help by that name. Yes, we used to call her Machine! True to her calling she was super efficient at what she did and for my mom she was quite an asset. Her house was shouting distance from ours and I recollect being asked to shout out for her every other day. It was a perplexing name but somehow we never got ourselves to ask her about it. The fact is that Indians have a bewildering variety of names. From men by the name of Blossom Babykutty to a donkey by the name of Shamsher (lion), we get used to accepting this unexpected complexity of irrelevant associations.
My father used to work for the government and soon time came for him to take up his new posting in another city. My mother, in her typical style, was extra generous with the support staff and especially with Machine since she had been such a huge help. While handing over her farewell gift mom asked Machine very sweetly about the origins of her name. She asked with a mix of innocence and curiosity what made her parents call her by her rather unusual name. She gave my mom a puzzled look and said that this was a name that my mother had bestowed upon her !! She went on to add that there was so much of affection in the way my mother addressed her that she thought that this was a term of endearment. Her actual name turned out to be Parkasi. Essentially for the last three years Mom had been addressing Parkasi as “Machine” and Parkasi perhaps just accepted this title from her employer and grew to like it over the years.
Both the ladies parted very perplexed at this turn of events. But again, as they say what’s in a name?