Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Who am I ? Where am I ?

There I was at the lounge of the Mumbai airport, happily gorging on the beetroot cutlets and lazily sipping the fresh lime soda, when that short, bespectacled, bearded guy walked in and greeted me cheerfully. Sensing that I couldn’t place him at all and had no idea who he was, he gently reminded me that we had met at the CII seminar the previous week.

After he was gone, I reflected on this incident. How could I forget a person who I had met just a few days back. ? The only explanation was that I was in a fairly advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and rapidly losing my memory.

Neuroscientists say that there are four distinct stages of senility. In the first stage, you forget a person’s name, though you may remember his face; in the second stage, you forget the person’s face as well as his name; in the third stage you forget to zip up your pants and in the fourth stage- you forget to zip down your pants when you need to.

I looked down. I had zipped up my pants. That meant I was somewhere between the second and third stages of senility and unless I acted fast would slip to the terminal stages pretty soon.

Important thing was not to panic. But to get hold of myself. I remembered the story of the ace race driver (alas, I had forgotten his name) who met with an accident and was completely paralysed from his jaw downward. Lying down on his bed, he was agonizing over the fact that he could never drive a car again, never play the guitar, never jog in the park, etc. Never ever again Then he told himself that he should look at the positive side and not sink into such abysmal depths of depression. He ought to look at the things that he could do, rather than things that he couldn’t. He started counting. He could lift his eyebrow, he could move one of his ears, he could wink with his right eye, he could curl his upper lip. Thus, he counted 47 small things that he could actually do, which made him feel a lot better.

So, I thought, let me see how many things that I could remember, rather than worry about things that I could not.

Could I remember the locations of the toilets in each of the schools that I had attended ? Yes, I could. Some of those places were quite creepy too.

Did I remember the names of my teachers who taught me from classes 1 to 5 ? Yes, I could reel out all the names. I wondered what had happened to Sheila Miss in the years since.

Could I recall how many runs G.R.Vishwanath scored in the fifth test match at Chepauk, against the West Indies in 1975? Yes. 97 not out. One of the best knocks ever.

Did I remember my wife’s birthday ? Of course I did. As the piece of wisdom goes, the best way to remember your wife’s birthday is by forgetting it once. I had failed to wish my wife on her birthday in 1993. I haven’t been allowed to forget the date after that. It is etched in my memory. Alzeimer's or no Alzeimer's.

What was the name of the customer I had met this morning ? God. My mind was a complete blank . Yes, now the pattern was painfully clear and the evidence irrefutable. I could remember everything that had transpired 15 years back, but my brain would not retain anything that had happened in the more recent past. Fat lot of good it did to me. I couldn’t subsist on childhood memory for the rest of my life.

A friend of mine had told me about his brother-in-law who had fallen on his head and lost consciousness when his scooter skidded. When he came round finally, he couldn’t remember a thing. But slowly his memory returned. He could recognize his mother after a month, his father after two months and his brother after a year. When he was shown the photographs of his grandparents who had been dead for more than 20 years, he had no difficulty in identifying them. But he simply could not recognize his wife who he had been living with for five years before the accident. The doctors had consoled the wife that memory could play such strange tricks and this behaviour did not mean that he did not care for her. The wife is patiently waiting and constantly meditating –as only a devoted Indian wife can- for the day when her husband would regain his full memory and show some sign of recognition so that she can then smash his skull and send him back to his amnesiac state. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as they say.

But I digress. The explanation was that my brain , though able to recollect all that had happened in the distant past, forgot whatever had happened in the immediate past- like that morning, for instance. What to do ? I must think, think. The stupid sound system and the constant announcements at the airport lounge were disturbing my flow of thought. A last and final call was being issued to an irresponsible passenger asking him to present himself, pronto, at the boarding gate. Such guys must be hounded out and shot at sunrise, I cursed,. for being so inconsiderate to fellow passengers and for making such announcements necessary and causing such noise pollution. And the passenger’s name was vaguely familiar. Hell, it was my name. No wonder it was familiar. I had to drop the beetroot cutlets and rush to catch the plane……….


Shruthi said...

Ha ha, good one there!

Priya Sivan said...

Alzheimers can be called a humourously serious or seriously humourous disease :))
Read this somewhere:
Answering machine at the Mental Hospital..."Hello, and welcome to the mental health hotline."
If you are obsessive-compulsive, press 1 repeatedly.
If you have multiple personalities, press 2,3,4 and 5
If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a small voice will tell you which number to press.
If you have short-term memory loss, press 9.
If you have short-term memory loss, press 9.
If you have short-term memory loss, press 9.
If you have short-term memory loss, press 9.


Anonymous said...

Goddamn! I swear I have the very same doubts about myself (getting alzhiemers that is). Actually I havesuspecting that for a couple of yrs now.. Just cant seem to remember new people and places but I remember very clearly age old things like what I said to the girl I had the first crush on and what the reply was (though I would like to forget the second part)...