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Tuesday 23 September 2014
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Failing memory

By V Desikan Dec 5, 2013


Whenever I get a wedding invite from any of my relatives or friends, I start making my plans. Make no mistake – it is not about dates, schedule or about what clothes to wear.


  It’s all about guessing people who are likely to attend the wedding and their correct names.  This is an exercise to avoid being caught unawares about names during the function. As you grow old, your memory fails you on some occasions and shows you in poor light.  When you see a person, you may not be able to immediately recollect his or her name. Homework certainly helps; the oft repeated military adage “the more you sweat in peace, less you bleed in war” applies everywhere.  But despite one’s preparations, tricky situations may arise.

As I am at a wedding reception, someone gently taps me on my shoulder  and calls me by my childhood nick name; as I turn around his  face looks very familiar, but his name remains elusive. I understand that the structure of a human memory is the reason why one can often recognise the person's face and even come up with other details, but the name - that’s a different science! But my main problem really starts when the other person does not accept my apology for not remembering his name and begins offering me clues for guessing his name. This is in fact worse than him repeating the dialogue of Scar in Lion King - “I know that your powers of retention are as wet as a warthog’s backside”.


Sometimes one suffers ‘memory blanking’ that happens generally due to a stressful situation. Four decades ago, an All India Radio employee was suddenly asked to read the news, as the regular news reader took ill minutes before the newscast. As the substitute started reading the typed out news, he came across the lines – “News read by” followed by a blank space. It did not occur to him that he had to say his name.  Instead names of all other news readers flashed across his mind.  After nearly 30 seconds, which according to him was like 30 hours, he came out of the memory black out and continued reading the rest of the news. 

My experience was little different. I was working for a high security defence organisation which deployed a secure access system through a swipe card and password system.  I had no difficulty in remembering my password the first three years of using it.  But one day my memory decided to play truant.  As my first entry failed, I panicked and my mind went into a tizzy and all my further efforts were totally futile. Luckily one of my colleagues saw my flushed anxious face and came to my rescue by punching his password and I discreetly slipped in with him. I take great comfort from the fact that everyone has difficulty with names;  so these days I am less embarrassed when one eludes me and also less critical of others when my name escapes them.

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