Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
I suppose I have many defects in my ture, the worst of them is forgetfulness. It is not really due to 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 long back, in fact, more than half a century back. But still the fragmentary images of those days still haunt me. I was envious of my friends who had such wonderful memory. My mind often goes back to that long-forgotten era, where 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 and examition 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 them vividly. During examition 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 beautifully, but I was a dismal failure. I just could not memorize them. 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 make every effort to memorize answers from the guide books. I wonder if this memorizing process is effective or not.
People with sharp memory are always appreciated. Some people do have wonderful 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 embarrassing situations. But unfortutely I often succumb to forgetfulness and it is no use crying over spilt milk.
In psychology we find that forgetfulness may be temporary or permanent, partial or complete. We may forget a thing for the time being or for good. Or, we may forget something in part, 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 an 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 and forms for 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 others ill-treatment. It 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 elder lady, whom I met at a wedding reception. She accosted me with a beaming face and said that we studied in 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 recall her, as was only tural she was talking about events which occurred more than half a century back. I looked at her and possibly some tactful answer could have eased the situation. But fool that I was I said with an apologetic smile that I was sorry that I could not recognize her. 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 sometimes, but it does create many problems. Hence I always make some New Year resolutions each year to do certain good things. Perhaps you too make them. 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 am a dismal failure. Age has nothing to do with it, since it has always been like that.
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 intentions, 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 it. 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.
I don’t know about your resolutions for the New Year. But my list is headed by 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. All forgotten events come alive in the diary. However insignificant a person may be, certain events involving tears or smiles must have happened to him or her some time. Why not record those events lest you forget them. Once a 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 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. 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. But over the years, have realized that life is a mixture of good and evil. I have also noticed that the pain definitely diminishes when I confide it to somebody. If there is none to whom you can unburden yourself, then the next best thing 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 exciting and promising.
There was a time when we did not even know about terrorism, murder, abductions, rape and all these anti-social activities which have become common place today. In that era we were so happy and our days were delightful. People could freely move around till late night without any fear. Even girls were free to dawdle with friends, without any apprehension of being victims of some lascivious male. These things were unheard of. Of course it is very true that girls were not given as much freedom as they are given today. In that age they wore either mekhela chadar or sari. Even for school uniforms girls had to wear some mekhela chadars, stipulated by the concerned authority. Only small girls could wear frocks and skirts—but when the girls grew up they had to discard them and wear mekhela chadars.
Today when I look back 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 adore some of the teachers, who were kind and considerate. Of course we did not like some, who were strict and hard. But today I feel that we misjudged them, since whatever they did, was as 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. I remember only a few of them, since it happened long back. Possibly they have long left the world. 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 most of us hated them, since we felt that they 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.
I truly wish that I had kept a diary. 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 in the bright pages. Then I just got tired of it and my diary got pushed off into some dark corner. 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 piece of 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 also 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 would be the decisive factor and those long informative letters would no longer be necessary. 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 a 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?
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)