Monday, June 12, 2006

Moments and Memory

As a self-confessed sociopath, I find it convenient to maintain an aura of inapproachability around my cube. Given the open-door policy feature of the Office cubicles, this aura must be carefully established by using a pair of oversized headphones, shuffling a set of intimidating looking applications on the desktop and wearing an expression of quiet distaste. Despite all this, as I found out, this scheme is vulnerable to the chance draft of perfume wafting from a casual passer-by. Now this is hardly noteworthy in itself. What is interesting, is the effect of the stray perfume and the line of thought it engendered.

I suffered an immediate context switch (which was unfortunate given the state of my release schedule). The perfume reminded me of a quiet afternoon some years past, spent in some very pleasant company, while watching the fantastic inanity that passes for afternoon TV. I immediately recalled, with perfect clarity, the lunch we had, the mindless chitchat we indulged in, and even the ludicrous plot-twist in the soap we watched. This sort of total recall is not rare. It probably occurs often enough for us to spend some time in recollection, smile a wistful smile, and in this nostalgic good humor introduce a couple of bugs in the next release.

The reason I analyze this particular occurrence more than I ordinarily would, is because of a book on memory that I am currently reading. It mentions, amongst other things, how Marcel Proust wrote his now-famous autobiographical work after a taste of some Madeleine cake triggered a childhood memory.
I have spent the last couple of days trying to find other triggers that cause me to remember past events. The Rasna jingle inevitably brings to mind the pleasurable Sunday evenings spent watching the adventures of Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman. The Tresor perfumes conjure images of a favorite cousin. The sound of rain on a tin roof recalls the tea-chawl behind the college to the mind's eye and the taste of the hot, bitter tea to the tongue. And then there are songs. Their notes striking chords of bitter-sweet memory. All mellowed by time into soft pastel shades. All treasured, acknowledged with a shake of the head and a wry smile.

It should be a guiding principle in life to look for moments that have a high Memory Quotient. The majority of our lives are spent in the white haze of commuting to office, paying bills, filling Work Breakdown Structures, reading long-winded blogs and other such. Few moments of intense emotional experience stand out. It seems to me a fine (if slightly selfish) goal to maximize these moments that so intensely impinge on our consciousness. For these, and only these moments of serenity, sorrow and joy have the power to modify our thought, deepen our insight into our own working and fulfill our latent potential. Everything else is a necessary evil.

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