“What happened?” I asked, waking up to the gentle nudge of an elbow of my colleague.
“Nothing, the speech is over. You may now rise and shine.” He said.
For the past one and a half hours I was in Neverland and an observer would have decided I was in a comatose condition. That’s what happens whenever the bosses speak and especially if he is the one right there at the top. When we came out of the conference hall I asked my colleague once again “What happened?”
“Forget it, you didn’t miss much.” He replied.
I remember going into the hall and taking my seat only to get up soon after when the Boss entered and then sitting down again. The next thing I was aware of was that nudge. What transpired in between is not even in my memory. I never went to sleep and that’s the truth.
Frankly there have been many such occasions when I did not need a knock on my head to become comatose. . I still remember the various times when I had fallen into induced comatose condition especially when I was studying. These occurrences were mainly during the afternoon sessions, after a hefty lunch attending the ‘Magnetic Fields’ class. As the professor waved his hands in a bid to illustrate how the magnetic lines of force flowed from one pole to the other, I would feel them pass through my head on their way . As the intensity increased I would slowly be pushed into an abyss. Then all would be dark. Once again it was that gentle nudge from the person sitting next to me that would indicate the class had ended. I would wake up to a deafening silence around me and as I stared at the blackboard filled with what resembled hieroglyphics, a strange feeling of having travelled through a time warp and landing in the midst of an ancient Egyptian civilisation would envelop me. I would turn towards my friend and ask him ‘What happened?”
“Nothing” he would say and grin “The class is over and you may now prepare for the next period. Don’t worry the professor was too involved in his magnetic fields to notice you. But I should say that you do have a wonderful knack of appearing awake and paying attention to what is happening in class and I guess those specs of yours are a big help.” I have never been able to recollect what happened during those classes and my subsequent performances in that subject will bear testimony. It was when I opened my note book to study for the exams that I would be confronted by those blank pages.
Sometime ago I saw a very interesting Tamil film ‘Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom’. Translated in English it means ‘A few pages are missing in the middle’. It is a comedy about a man who gets injured in his head while playing cricket with his friends just two days before his wedding. Though outwardly no injury is evident and he gets back on his feet after the fall, his friends realize that though he remembers events just before the fall, like his bid to catch the ball, he is unable to recollect anything that happened during the one year preceding the accident. As a result he does not recognize his girl- friend of the last one year and the fact that he is to be married to her. The events leading to his marriage in the end and the efforts of his friend to ensure that the others do not come to know of his condition is just hilarious. Every time they try to make him recover his lost memory, he only narrates his bid to catch the ball and falling down and ending up asking ‘What happened?’ This is repeated so many times during the movie that you also find yourself asking ‘What happened?’ after the movie ends.
I have tried to understand how this happens and did refer to a few books especially Dr. V.S. Ramachandran’s ‘The Tell-Tale Brain’, a masterpiece like his earlier work ‘Phantoms in the Brain’ on neuroscience. But I should admit that midway through such scholarly works I once again lapse into those Neverlands. Ramachandran says while talking about amnesia (that’s what we are interested in right now) -
“Almost everyone has heard of amnesia following head trauma: The patient has difficulty recollecting specific incidents that took place during the weeks or months preceding the injury, even though he is smart, recognizes people and is able to acquire new episodic memories. This syndrome –retrograde amnesia – is quite common, seen as often in real life as in Hollwood.”
Well that’s what I was looking for – whether Hollywood or Kollywood this is a favourite – amnesia. There is so much more in the book and so much more to the head that if we try to delve into the mysteries of our lost memories we are sure to become comatose. I have tried to understand it my own way.
Leaving aside the trauma part of it due to a head injury most of us suffer memory loss as we grow older. This is attributed to the progressive death of those little grey cells we keep hearing about but have not seen –
“So what’s happened to him? He keeps forgetting things.”
“Poor guy, he is suffering from Alzhemiers.”
I don’t mind if they are referring to me. It suits me fine. For me now there are only two states – absent mindedness and selective memory loss. Let me clarify - my slippages are always pardoned, for I suffer from this syndrome ‘Poor man!’ they would say. While I have the last laugh for I choose what to remember and what not to.
But I should accept that I do suffer from short term memory loss distinct from the other two I mentioned above.
There have been occurrences of recent origin that would evoke snide remarks from those around me, that I am growing old. On quite a few occasions I have searched for my mobile in the pouch on my belt and panicked without realising that I was actually talking on the phone or say the time when I ended up searching for my spectacles while wearing them.
Putting aside all that light hearted banter this loss of memory due to an injury to the head or due to a sickness like encephalitis etc is a serious condition. I read an article ‘Waking up from the big sleep’ by Shobita Dhar in the TOI few days ago. Of course this was on the heels of the news that Michael Schumacher has woken up from an induced coma but that it’s going to be a long and painful road to recovery. The article talks of those coma patients who are slowly rebuilding their lives. Waking up is never like they show in the movies. There is no miraculous recovery. Recovery is a long process and is also dependent on the extent of brain damage. In the most severe form of injury to the head patients rarely come out of coma. The article highlights the fact that though advances in critical care have resulted in better chances of recovery from coma the steep cost of such treatment keeps it restricted to a few.
That brings me to the question – where do memories go when they are lost? If it is because the brain is damaged they are lost, they ought to be somewhere or are they wiped out completely? Such an inane question you may say, but doesn’t it bother you also?
Talking of brain damage reminds me of one of my favourite Pink Floyd compositions ‘Brain Damage’ from the album ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ a theme based on mental disorder -
The lunatic is on the grass.
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path.
The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.
And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.
The lunatic is in my head.
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me 'til I'm sane.
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There's someone in my head but it's not me.
And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.