By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Forgetfulness is the bane of my life. I often forget things and events and it has landed me in many unpleasant situations. Long back it gave me horrors during examitions, while I was a student. I often forgot my lessons and that was why I used to write notes on various topics to sharpen my memory. For me writing was very important to remember my lessons. If I read some lesson in my book, I was sure to forget it after I had finished reading. Hence all my books were dotted with various important points, which I scribbled at the margin. I used to scan those points before I went to the examition hall. With all those notes jotted down at the margin of the books, my books always presented a soiled appearance. The books of my friends looked so neat and clean that I used to look at them enviously.
The horror of forgetfulness haunted me throughout my student life. I hated History, as I could not remember the years, wars and other events rrated in the text book. Often I gave wrong answers to the wrong questions. I wonder how I could be successful in my examitions. It was certainly grace of God which saved me from dire consequences.
In my advanced age I find that my memory is worse than ever. I forget many persons whom I may not have seen for some time. Actually those long-forgotten persons do not take kindly to my obliviousness. Many of them take it as a deliberate insult on my part. I know that it is not good manners to say that I do not remember the person concerned. You may say that for the sake of maintaining courtesy, politeness and amiability, I may say that I do remember the person, though in actual fact I do not. Well, sometimes nowadays I do so. But some persons meanly ask me to identify them and I get in the mire of all those people whom I had forgotten.
Only recently a lady asked me at a party if I remembered her. I did not know her from Adam. But for maintaining good manners and pleasant atmosphere I told her that of course I did remember her. Then she asked me quizzically with a smile, “Then tell me who I am”. I thought that it was very mean and mischievous of her to ask me to identify her. turally I could not answer her, as I did not really know her. Fortutely she did not get angry at my silence and told me with a smile, “I knew from your expression that you did not remember me. I am not at all annoyed. turally you cannot remember all the people whom you met in the long past. Don’t worry. I do not mind at all. I too often forget people. It is only tural”. Then she introduced herself.
I apologized to her for my unintentiol fault, but she brushed aside my apologies with a smile. She was very considerate. But all people are not so considerate. Sometimes my forgetfulness does lead to unimagible unpleasantness. Actually forgetfulness is never intentiol. So I think that people should not blame me for the malaise. But they do and that is my tragedy.
In psychology we find that forgetfulness may be temporary or permanent, partial or complete. We may forget something for the time being or for good. Again we may partly forget a thing, while remembering it in part or totally forget it. According to psychology forgetfulness in any degree is due to the fading of images with the lapse of time, absence of repetition ad want of proper association and suggestive forces. These are normal kind of forgetfulness 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”. The survivors of canon shots and bomb blasts in the modern warfare may be the victims of shock amnesia. It may also be due to some local injury in the visual or auditory centre in the cortex. Then it may take the form of the loss of visual memory, that is memory for colours and forms. Local injury to the auditory centre may cause the loss of auditory memory, that is, memory of sounds.
Lastly, forgetfulness may be the effect of repression. Multifarious ideas may come to an individual’s mind which may be too indecent or foolish. turally the individual feels ashamed to own them and his prudence makes him reject those silly and indecent complexes. Hence these wishes with their accompanying ideas and emotions are pushed to the unconscious depths of the mind. This last cause of forgetfulness is emphasized by the Freudian School. They emerge occasiolly as dreams. It is doubtful if any experience is wholly lost. Though particular things may be wholly forgotten without any chance of recovery, the collective effects of all past experiences seem to persist by permanently modifying our whole mental constitution.
We may refer to some diseases of memory other than amnesia. They are “Aphasia” and “Hypermnesia”. They are abnormal causes of forgetfulness. Aphasia is a word disease having many forms. There are two motor types and two sensory types. The motor types are “vocal aphasia” and “agraphia”. The vocal aphasia effects the uttering of words and agraphia affects the writing of words. The sensory types are visual and auditory. The visual type prevents reading of words and the auditory type prevents hearing of words. Thus some persons can understand what others say or write, but cannot utter the words themselves. In the milder forms of aphasia of this type, a person may be fluent enough, but cannot choose the right words for expressing his meaning. A few cannot write words, but can hear, read and speak them well. These are some abnormal forms of forgetfulness.
In cases of what is called “multiple persolity” we have amnesia or total oblivion of a part of one’s life followed by hypermnesia of sudden and complete revival of the same. Thus it has been observed that a man is knocked down by a motor car and suddenly forgets all the past things, including his home and his relations. Then he goes to a new place, settles there as a shop-keeper and makes new acquaintances. Then after a couple of years one fine morning he gets up and suddenly recalls his whole past life, appearing like a dream. Here is a division of persolity, that is, the division of one person into two.
Forgetfulness in old age follows certain rules. In old age earlier experiences are retained nearly intact, while recent experiences are forgotten. This is due to the fact that the plasticity of the brain is lost in old age and with it the mind loses the power to imbibe new things. Another reason is that things learnt early in life have greater opportunities of consolidation by many repetitions and numerous associations. Another feature of such degeneration of memory is that proper mes are forgotten first of all, then concrete common mes, then adjectives, verbs, propositions and conjunctions. In other words that part of language which is least frequently used is forgotten first of all. This is generally true in cases of loss of memory due to diseases as well.
Forgetfulness is not, as is normally supposed, wholly an evil. It is rather a bliss to some persons, haunted by painful memories of lost friends, past misdeeds, failure in some things or other kinds of sad incidents. Some painful memories of past events can make us terribly sad at present. So it is better to forget them. If we remember all the tragic past incidents, we may be devastated by the unfortute memories. Then we will not have a moment’s peace. Hence it is better to forget them. Actually forgetfulness is a condition of memory itself, since it relieves the mind of unprofitable load and thus it makes the mind ready for fresh acquisitions.
Leaving aside these psychological speculations we may say that forgetfulness is nothing unusual. Any normal healthy person may forget lots of things. But it does gives us some acutely embarrassing moments at times. My memory is appalling and I often forget people. Sometimes a person’s face seems to be familiar, but for the life of me I cannot recall their mes. Take this elderly lady whom I met at a wedding reception. She accosted me with a beaming smile and stated that we went to the same school at my home town Jorhat long back. Apparently we were in the same class. I looked at her curiously and tried to remember her. But it was no use and my mind was totally blank, devoid of any image. I racked my brains to remember her identity, but could not place her, as was only tural. She was talking about events which occurred more than half a century back. I have entirely forgotten my school days. I forget even recent events, then how could I possibly remember some body, whom I saw long back.