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A quick tale 203

Unlearn*

I can see the entrance from where I’m standing. A deep red door with the number 88 painted on it. When I spoke to them, I was told that it would all be over in less than an hour. Less than 60 minutes to clean up years of junk! They must know what they are talking about. Otherwise they would not be in such high demand (or indeed charge so much!). My colleague Maria had hers done just last month and she tells me that she feels lighter than ever! My appointment is due in the next 15 minutes and I had better start making my way if I don’t want to be late. But somehow my legs feel leaden and each step is a drag. After all, I know the risks and I have read through their contract and all its 45 pages of fine print before agreeing to the procedure. I know that I will no longer be able to recall the name of that Japanese exchange student who stayed with us for a month. Or the way to my hostel from the university gate. Or the recipe for besan wadi. But these are the precise details I want to be free from.

You see, it all started last summer when I was out for dinner with a group of friends. We’re all about the same age and went to college together. After the initial ho-hum, typically our talk turned to growing old. We realised that in the past year we’d had all sprouted our first gray strand of hair. Though we tried to laugh it off, we knew what this meant. Death knell to our youth. It won’t be long before our faces were lined with crow’s feet and laughter lines and our conversations were taken over by talk of boob jobs and tummy tucks.

Long after that evening, for some unfathomable reason, I kept going back to our conversation and spent the next few weeks observing my body minutely in the mirror for signs of ageing. It wasn’t long before I started noticing subtle changes – not in my body but in my mind. I was no longer able to recall instantly names of friends and colleagues like I used to before. Birthdays and anniversaries would slip by without my noticing it. So I started making lists of things to do just so I could remember them. Post-it notes began making their appearances everywhere around the house. They would remind me if I had a hairdresser’s appointment or if I was due to return a library book that day. By October, I was convinced that I was on a downward spiral of ageing and memory loss. I spent hours on the internet everyday looking for someway to reverse the process. Nothing came up until a chance encounter with my brother’s fiancée who works for the government department of health and wellbeing.

She talked of a revolutionary procedure whereby you can have your mind uncluttered from unnecessary detail clogging up mind space. It works like this. Apparently, the mind has millions of pigeonhole like slots which hold information. And when need comes up, like when you run into an old friend, your mind just dips into the allotted slot and makes you call out ‘how wonderful to meet you, Deepa!’. The trouble arises when there is a glut of information. The file-keeping department of the brain goes into a tizzy with all the information that it has to handle. And starts neglecting less-critical tasks like maintaining old files.

Which is why, as time goes by, I was told, we are able to recall less and less of the distant past. The new radical solution, which was still being researched, would simply get rid of unwanted information from the brain and free up several million pigeon holes. This they hoped would make the brain work faster and more efficiently. And keep the brain from information-congestion.

I told my brother’s fiancée that I wanted to sign up for the project. But she told me that it was a high-risk procedure still pending sanction from the medical department. I’d have to do it at my own expense and that it’d be carried out in the back alleys of the city. Yes, yes, I know, I nodded eagerly. She went silent for a minute before adding solemnly ‘it is irreversible’. Of course, I said, I understood the risks and was more than ready for it.

The next month whizzed by in a flurry of preparation. I had to open my house and diary for a thorough examination by the experts. They quizzed me for hours about everything from past lovers and driving history to dieting patterns and deep, dark secrets. They took copious notes and recorded every single conversation before giving me the go ahead. I was over the moon when the appointment letter came through and here I am ten minutes away from unlearning uncritical information forever. I’m about to forget how to knit, where to go for the best deals in bathroom tiles and whose name always came first in our school attendance register. I take a deep breath and start walking towards the crimson door. When I come out, I may not remember who you are. But if I’m looking a little lost, will you please tell me that my address is in my right coat pocket? And that I’ve parked my car 200 yards from here? Thank you.

*the medical info stated here is extremely dodgy. So please don't write to me saying that's not how the brain works.

Comments

Rach said…
Interesting! If only the mind actually worked like that.. Come to think of it, I remember this story where Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that he's able to remember things well because he eliminates unnecessary learning: things like how long the moon takes to go around the earth. Guess this goes on the same lines..
Deepa said…
You want to go through so much just to remember my name when we meet!!?? I am tearing.
Anonymous said…
very "eternal sunshine of the spotless mind"-esq!!:)

SK
I have seen an improvement in my memory after doing some mind exercises on a daily basis. Do check out http://www.photographic-memory.org, it helped me and it can definitely help you too.
beautifully conceived plot..though reality of it could be only few years away.
a first timer here
tc
cu
lekhni said…
Interesting story. I guess you will remember how to drive, though? Perhaps they will only empty the short-term cache memory.
ggop said…
This reminded me of the theme in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. Of course, that was about erasing memories completely opposite of what you wrote :-)

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http://jikku.blogspot.com/2005/02/quick-tale-3.html#c111042815438237631

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-a

Now and Then

"Now that I'm fifty-seven",
My mother used to say,
"Why should I waste a minute?
Why should I waste a day

Doing the things I ought to
Simply because I should?
Now that I'm fifty-seven
I'm done with that for good."

But now and then I'd catch her
Trapped in some thankless chore
Just as she might have been at
Fifty-three or fifty-four

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(And I have to bite my tongue)
That if you mean to learn a skill
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For fifty, I've begun
To do exactly as I please
Now that I'm thirty-one.

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