By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
I suppose I have many defects in my ture, the worst of them is forgetfulness. It is not really due to my advanced age—this flaw has always brought pain and frustration to my life. Even in my student days I could not memorize my lessons. I remember my life in the Dundas Hostel in Calcutta, when I was a student of the Scottish Church College. It was decades back, in fact, more than half a century back. But the fragmentary images of those days still haunt me. I was envious of my friends who had such wonderful memory. I have forgotten even the mes of some of my friends. My mind often goes back to that long-forgotten era, when there was no violence, no anti-social activities nor were there agitations, which have become common place today. Those were the days when peace and happiness reigned supreme. As students our only concern was education followed by examitions and nothing else mattered.
I remember those days in Dundas Hostel with wistfulness. How happy we were! I had some very good friends, but turally after all these years I have lost contact with them. I wonder where they are or if they are still alive. Today I remember some of them vividly. During examitions our rooms buzzed with the humming of the examinees. Every one became busy with their notes trying to memorize them to the letter. They did that marvelously and their memory was superb, while I was a dismal failure. I just could not remember the notes I had read. So my only altertive was to try to understand them thoroughly and write the answers in my own way. This procedure did help me a lot. Today I see children making every effort to memorize some answers from the guide books, which flood the market. I wonder if their memorizing process is effective or not.
People with sharp memory are always appreciated by everybody. Some people do have amazing memory and it is very useful for them not only in examitions, but in other spheres as well. Forgetfulness leads to many embarrassing and unpleasant situations. Hence good memory is regarded as a blessing while forgetfulness is condemned as a curse. I too feel that if I had a good memory, it would have saved me from many awkward situations. But unfortutely I have no good memory. I often succumb to forgetfulness and it is no use crying over spilt milk. I have accepted my deficiency in remembering various things and it is as simple as that.
In psychology we find that forgetfulness may be temporary or permanent, partial or complete. We may forget something for some time a thing some or for good. Or, we may forget something partially or wholly. According to psychology forgetfulness in any degree is due to absence of repetition and want of proper association and suggestive forces. These are normal kinds of oblivion in any average healthy individual. But there is also abnormal or pathological forgetfulness called ‘amnesia’. It is sudden loss of memory for particular things. It may be caused by a sudden shock to the brain and is then called “shock amnesia”. It may be due to local injury in the visual or auditory centre of the cortex and may then take the form of the loss of visual memory, that is, memory for colours or it may take the form of the loss of auditory memory, that is, memory for sounds. Loss of memory also may be the effect of repression. This cause of oblivion is emphasized by the Freudian school. It is doubtful if any experience is wholly lost. Though particular things may be wholly forgotten without any chance of recovery, the collective effect of all past experiences would seem to persist by permanently modifying our whole mental constitution.
Forgetfulness is not, as is normally supposed, wholly an evil. It is rather bliss to one haunted by painful memories of lost friends, past misdeeds or other kinds of sad incidents. Actually forgetfulness is a condition of memory itself, since it relieves the mind of unprofitable load and thus makes it ready for fresh acquisition.
Leaving aside these psychological discussions, we may say that forgetfulness is nothing unusual. But it does give us acutely embarrassing moments in our life. As I said, my memory is atrocious. I often forget people. Sometimes a person’s face seems to be familiar, but for the life of me I can’t recall their mes. Take this elderly lady, whom I met at a wedding reception. She accosted me with a beaming face and said that we studied at the same class and in the same school at Jorhat. I looked at her and tried to remember her—but it was of course impossible. For the life of me I could not place her, as was only tural. She was talking about events which occurred more than half a century back. I have forgotten my school days. I forget even recent events, then how could I possibly throw my mind back to the long past. I wondered how she recognized me, if she really did. I looked at her, but could not place her. Possibly some tactful answer could have eased the situation. But fool that I was, I said bluntly with an apologetic smile that I was sorry but I could not recognize her. It is often said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That is what happened. The lady’s smile froze and her eyes blazed. She left me without a word. I realized sadly that I had idvertently added another me to my long list of enemies.
Forgetfulness may be a blessing at certain times, but it does create many problems. People do not seem to realise the fact that forgetfulness is not intentiol. Hence I always make some new year resolutions each year to do certain good things. One of them is to cultivate discretion and tactfulness. Perhaps you too make these new year resolutions. There are so many good things we want to do, yet never get around doing them. Often we forget our intentions, sometimes perhaps deliberately. That is why each year I make my new year resolutions and write them in big bold letters, so that every time I see them, I get a prick of conscience for not carrying them out. Every year when I make those resolutions, I sincerely resolve to carry them out—but in that respect I always make a wretched work of my resolution. Age has nothing to do with it, since it has always been like that. Now of course age may be cited as an excuse.
Some moralists have stated that “Hell is paved with good intentions while heaven is paved with bad intentions” May be the statement is confusing, to say the least. I think what is meant by the statement is that if we have some good intention, but do not make them actual, and do not attempt to accomplish them, then we have failed in doing good in spite of knowing it. Hell is the only place for a person, who in spite of knowing what is good, does not perform them. On the other hand, if a person has some bad intentions, but do not execute them, it shows that he has overcome his evil tendencies. Because of this self-restraint he may get a place in the heaven. I don’t know if I am right, but that is my way of solving the riddle.
Since my intentions are always admirable, though I do not have enough determition to fulfill my obligations, my destition seems obvious, whether I like it or not. I don’t know if you make any new year resolutions each year. I do that every year and my list always includes my most ambitious project, that is to keep a diary. Now you don’t have to be a linguist or a writer to keep records of your day to day life. It may not be of any interest to anybody—even your children or grand children might one day dump it in the garbage bin. It does not matter. Think how nice it would be to yourself when you look back into your colourful or colourless past. Actually diary is the only way to counter my wretched forgetfulness. I feel sad when I think that I should have recorded my day to day life faithfully. Today when some events of the long past come to my mind in a fragmentary way I feel nostalgic. If only I had kept a diary and recorded every event occurring in my life with religious fervour, how happy I would have been to go through them today. All forgotten events come alive in a diary. However insignificant a person may be, certain events involving tears or smiles must have happened to him or her sometime. Why not record those events lest you forget them. One lady told me that she only recorded the happy events of her life in her diary, deliberately leaving out all the unpleasant incidents, never wishing to be reminded of them, so that in her old age she can sit and laugh over the happy times she dad enjoyed. Not a bad idea at all.
But you cannot avoid sorrow in a full life. How would you know the pleasurable events, unless you had some experience of the painful incidents also? Pleasure and pain go together and one is meaningless without the other. To realize and savour pleasure, one must experience pain as well. None can have only happiness throughout his life without a little bit of unhappiness. It is the law of ture. Pleasure and pain are two sides of a coin. I cannot have all good things without having its counterpart—the bad things as well. After all, tears and laughter go together. As the poet said—
“Our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought”
Do I sound like a wise old philosopher? I hope not. I am not audacious enough to aim at the moon. But over the years I have realized that life is a mixture of good and evil. I have also noticed that pain definitely diminishes when I confide it to somebody. If there is none whom you can trust and to you can unburden yourself, then the best thing to do, I suppose, is to keep a diary. It can give you abundant joy when you approach the last stage of your life, as I have been doing. I can’t help feeling sad for what I have missed. If I had been a little bit diligent and sincere, possible today I could have had some wonderful time, remembering those past incidents of my youth, when life was so promising and exciting.
There was a time when we did not even know about terrorism, insurgency, abductions, murder, rape and all these anti-social activities which have become so common place today. I remember diverse incidents in parts, since it is not possible to remember everything in detail. In that era we were so happy and our days were delightful. People could freely move around till late night without any fear. They did not even imagine that somebody might take pot shot at them from behind some bush. Even girls were free to dawdle with friends, without any apprehension of being victims of some lascivious male. These things were unheard of.
Today when I look back to the past I myself feel as if I am talking about a different world, when students were human beings with feelings and emotions and not some mechanical particles of a mass. Another feature was that the students adored some of the teachers, who were kind and considerate. Of course we did not like some of them, who were strict and hard. But today I feel that we had misjudged them, since whatever they did, it was for the welfare of the students. Still I think that if they were a little considerate and understanding, perhaps their advices would have been more effective, since in my advanced age I have realized that only with love and consideration, one can achieve the goal. I remember only a few of them, since it happened long back. Possibly they left the world years back. I feel sad when I think about them, as in my old age, I feel that we should have appreciated them for their diligence. But in that era we had the wrong idea that some of them did not have a particle of affection for us. Perhaps we were wrong in our assessment. If only I had the sense to record all those events, surely in this late age I would have become aware of the mistakes we made unintentiolly. I wish I could say ‘sorry’ to them and beg their forgiveness for my misunderstanding.
In that age the teachers had the liberty to punish any student for disobedience, indiscipline or for doing something wrong. The students could not even dream of making complaint against any teacher to the head of the institution or to their parents, because they knew very well that the parents would support the teacher and not their children. They never encouraged their children to go against any teacher. So the students knew that they had to obey the teacher and remain disciplined. There were no agitations against any teacher or against the authority concerned. The teachers were also hardworking and sincere and so there was no question of private tuition.
I don’t think it is any use to ponder over my past, which will never come back. I truly wish that I had kept a diary. Actually each year I bought a new diary and faithfully recorded every episode of the day, including the quaint sayings of the children. By the second month my enthusiasm wore off and my records got shorter and shorter. Filly something cryptic like “Nothing special” appeared on the bright pages. Then I just got tired of it and my diary got pushed off into some dark corner. I wonder about so many thing which I can’t remember. Today it is too late for me to think about keeping a diary. At this age I cannot think of any future—even the present is getting past in an unbelievable speed. Now I have nothing more to wish for. I read the “Diary of Anne Frank” some years back. It was a fasciting book. Only because she worked on her diary in those difficult days, we have been fortute enough to learn about her life as well as the situation in that era under the zi rule. The book is not only a fasciting literature, but also history. If the present generation keep diaries, the posterity would regard them as history.
Forgetfulness is something very tural. We like to forget certain things which are rather painful. But some incidents we certainly do not want to forget, as they may give us pleasure in our dark hours. When you go through your diary, you may find certain incidents which will bring a smile to your face. In a way, I suppose, letters also tell us a lot. In earlier times it was our practice to write rambling letters covering various events, some pleasurable and some painful. But whatever that might be, letters too represent the history of the time. I wish I had kept all my letters, which were written by my friends and relatives. They rrated many events of the time, which enthralled me. But letters in that age, though enjoyable, were also regarded as common place. We never thought about preserving them, since we had no idea that letters would be a rarity in the days to come. We could not even imagine about an age when computers, mobile phone, e-mail would be the decisive factors and those long informative letters would no longer be necessary.
Any way, I never even thought about such an eventuality. Now I am sad and wistfully think about those days which are dead and gone. I have possibly forgotten many pleasant events, which would have been solace for me in this advanced age. But it is no use crying over spilt milk. I believe that the present generation should try their hands in letter-writing or perhaps in keeping a diary. A day may come in future, when they would long to remember certain things, which went out of their minds. Why not preserve them for the future?