Primatologist Jane Goodall, Hollywood actor Brad Pitt, British actress Emma Watson and I – we all have something in common. We struggle to recognise faces of people. Walking down the street, we may pass by our relatives, friends and neighbours.

We pass by them, without bothering to greet them.

People often misinterpret such indifference as due to selfish pride. Prosopagnosia is a neurological condition in which a person is incapable of facial recognition. The causes may be genetic, head injury or psychological trauma.

So far there is no known cure for this condition. Research shows that one in fifty people around the world have prosopagnosia, from mild to severe cases. Familiar faces whom we see every day will be easily recognised.

But the same faces will be difficult to recognise if they appear somewhat different.

Blame the coronavirus pandemic, even normal people are finding it difficult to recognise faces nowadays due to wearing of a mask by everyone! So it is time to show some empathy with prosopagnosia sufferers.

In a judgmental society like ours, normal people get easily offended if they are ignored.

Some years ago, my aunt was very critical of me when I ignored her while commuting in the same Safa Tempo. As social courtesy, she expected me to greet her. But my supposed indifference really irritated her.

Moreover, I failed to recognise her even after she started talking to me. In my sub consciousness mind, I was thinking at that time: 'Do I know this lady? I feel like I have seen this lady from somewhere.' Middle aged women are especially hyper-sensitive and over-reactive in such a situation.

She went on to complain to all my family members about my perceived 'arrogance'.

As a teacher, I occasionally encounter my students and ex-students on the way. They greet me with smiling faces,"Hello, Sir?"I can sense the disappointment in their eyes when they realise that their old favourite teacher is not able to recognise them anymore.

Needless to say, only girl students are disappointed.

Similar moments have been experienced by Emma Watson, too. One day, she and her new fan travelled across London, shopping and partying all day.

They became like best friends instantly. Next day, when Emma came across the same fan on the street, Emma could not recognise her at all. The fan was deeply hurt, and went on to give nasty interviews in British tabloids about Emma's 'aristocratic pride and superficiality'!

Jane Goodall also shared similar anecdotes. She had difficulties in recognising some chimpanzee faces. Unlike Homo sapiens, those primates never complained. Perhaps, they know what prosopagnosia is!

A version of this article appears in the print on August 3 2021, of The Himalayan Times.