Jul 26, 2012

Imperfect recall: what if?

Memories are unreliable chroniclers of facts. Sometimes bold, at other times, hazy but almost always shape-shifting, shimmery little mirages thrown up by your mind to appease, humor, nurture or mislead. Are the hazy ones hazy because they are incomplete ? The bold ones trying too hard to convince you? Which ones are true and which ones your own fanciful creations? What do you believe if even Belief can be trickery?

I read somewhere about how tricky the process of Recall is and find it quite plausible that often a small portion of our vividest memories are based on retrieved facts. The rest are intelligent cerebral interpolations that seeks to fill in the empty spaces and impart the right flavor. Poetic license of the Soul, if you will.

For instance, I'm know for sure that years ago, my brother really did build a small paper fire in our bedroom in Nairobi. To cook rice in a metal Smarties tube behind the bed. I am less sure however that the rice turned out as creamy, fluffy and yummy as I remember it. It's much more likely that my mom busted our covert ops at the first whiff of smoke and charred tin. My brother was 8, I was 3 and I am told that nothing good had ever come of complete silence from us for over 10 minutes in those days. My harried and over-worked young mother was in a perpetual state of alertness as a result. She had been primed, amongst other adventures, by returning to the kitchen one day, after hours of washing clothes in the bathtub, to find my brother lovingly lining up jam jars on the window sill. They were teeming with tadpoles and young frogs he'd 'rescued' from the school drains. She also found me about to start on a baby bottle full of assorted pond life. My brother's scheme to get me off the bottle was a brilliant, if unacknowledged, success as a few short screams later (not all of them came from me) I was permanently cured of the bottle habit. Anyway. Point is, she'd developed eyes in the back of her head and a 6th, 7th and 8th sense for what we were up to at any given time.

I'm not surprised though that I remember the taste of that forbidden snack (that never was) so well. We probably came way from the episode with bottoms slightly smarting and sinister promises of our father's fury (ineffective...he was a lamb) when he returned later in the evening. The thrill and excitement of  our bold adventure could not possibly end on such a mundane, forgettable note in the cerebral annals of my personal history. And so history got quietly revised when I first consciously remembered our 'good old days' and the episode of the Smartie tube. My brain filled in gaps and awarded the anticlimactic, unmemorable moments in my memory more fitting notes of joy.

So how do you trust your memories, ever? Not so worrisome with the joyful ones: hyperbole is not a bad thing if it stays true to spirit. But how about the dark nasties that everyone harbors in the inner recesses of their hearts?

What if you were to discover one day that the resentment that you feel towards someone has been conflated by your mind? That the anger towards them has been swollen by a hardworking brain filling in gaps with tones befitting your hurt feelings? Maybe their trespass was real but contextually much smaller than it's long residence in your memory has made it.

What if every hurt inside you is only fractionally real?
What if With just one stroke of acceptance, you can banish the majority of your hurts?

What if?

5.5 years old.
To his Uncle Mark as he walked through the door, "Hi Uncle Mark. I just had a tantrum. I cried, yelled and whined for things that were not right. It's called a tantrum and it's not good .Want to see my new 'Lion King' book?"


  1. I was thinking of something like this just a few days back. The sappy, very-missable '50 First Dates' was on TV, and I was thinking how good (or bad?) would it be if we didn't have 'memory' - what would life be like? Your line 'Maybe their trespass was real but contextually much smaller than it's long residence in your memory has made it.' - love love love!
    BTW 10 min silence when my sister and me were left together would cause the exact same reaction at home :D

    1. You're a braver soul than I to have even venture to TRY '50 first dates' and I commend you for turning your mind towards introspection instead of devising evil schemes to punish the freind who recommended the movie to you.
      Good question: if we did'nt have memory. Watched 'Memento' (or 'Ghajini' which I'm told is a remake)? If you have'nt I won't discuss the most fascinating thought nested in it right at the end because it would be a spoiler. If you HAVE watched it, please lets discuss. I think there might be another post topic for us there too: what if we had no memory and could live each day without the previous one informing it? LOL re: your sis and you in a room together! BTW, are you Bengali? Commonality perhaps...I'm Bong and from Kolkata and relate much to your lovely poem about it being dressed up unncessarily for you.

    2. Yes...bong connection full-on...very much from 'Calcutta' though settled in Delhi now. Of course have watched Memento and I think I know the fascinating thought you are referring to...so bring on the discussion! btw you know what? 'what if we had no memory and could live each day without the previous one informing it?' - ironically thats exactly what '50 First Dates' is about :) Although please don't waste your time watching it...especially if you detest Adam Sandler as much as I do ;)

    3. and so glad you liked the 'City of Joy' post...you're referring to this one right?
      It's not a poem, just something I rambled one day :)

    4. Amrita: Interesting that '50...' has that premise but then so did that ridiculous Drew Barrymore/Sandler movie i recently had the misfortune of wasting 2 non-refundable hours of my life on. I guess it depends on the treatment. And yes, I suspect I share your feelings for Sandler. The 'Memento' thought I had (if we're talking about the same thing) is how we have a fundamental NEED to believe certain narratives, hold certain assumptions, to go on with life as we know it, even when we know them to be untrue (partially or fully). Kinda related to the 'imperfect recall' premise in my post above: our brain knows that it's embellishing and even outright lying at times but does it anyway in the interest of the bigger picture. When the lying is more conscious and deliberate (as in Memento), does it morph into straight forward 'self delusion' or still stay within the more acceptable bounds of 'coping however you can'?
      Of coruse in 'Memento' there was no doubt which category it fell into but most of us are spared THAT level of drama in Life, thankfully!

      Cholo, ekta post hoyey jaak? For the hapless non_bongs out there (like anyone's even reading!! lol!), that loosely translates to 'game on!'. I'll aim to throw up something this weekend and you can put up something on your blog in response maybe? I'm at justcallmeboo at gmail dot com if you'd like to coordinate to try and invite some interesting commentary.

      LOL! about 'Calcutta'! I hear you: many of my freinds bristle with similar indignance. I'm quite happily on the 'whats in a name?' team and feel that it's just fine for a name to reflect the zeitgeist, that it doesn't alter the identity behind it but just frames the context of discussion more accurately to reflect the times we live in. As I understand it, "Kolkata" came about when there was a mass movement to return to roots in some small way and mindfully throw off the residual shackles of foreign occupation and the phoenetic corruptions they bequeathed us. I was away when it came about (living in the US) so missed out on the debates. But we should discuss: it's a good topic, though probably done to death. Recently invoked also in an interesting exchange between my freinds about the inappropriateness of changing names after marriage. I think we're seeing the pendulum swing to the opposite end now theer, at least for some. Arekta post naaki? :-)

      Will comment on the Calcutta poem on that post. I liked it quite a bit, rambling or not. You've got game in poetry AND prose, girl!

    5. '50..." is 'that ridiculous Drew Barrymore/Sandler movie' :D And that's the most I've ever mentioned that movie in my entire life not to mention in writing!
      On the Memento thought...I hear you, and I think even 'coping however you can' encompasses self-delusion to some extent (based on the seriousness of the issue of course). I think that's the only way people survive. I had a post idea brewing about the 'joys of forgetting' or something along those lines :)
      And on Calcutta...I am very much in the 'bristling' category on this one :D My indignation is from a very personal sense though (rather than the 'grass-root' Vs 'phoren' debate)...it's Calcutta which was homeground to me, Kolkata is what we read news about now (at least in my mind). Even when I go to write a simple thing like the name of my school, I pause over the Calcutta/Kolkata thing. And don't even get me started about the name change - I have combated visa officers, passport officials, my own parents and almost sacrificed a dream vacation in the process. Eta akta post hotei paare...you fire the first salvo!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.