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How to battle the sands of time

July 05, 2018

“Sometime you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory” ~ Dr. Seuss

Let me preface this article by saying that I don’t have a great memory. There are a few things I tend to remember in great, vivid detail; however, most things, in time, end up being hazy blurs.

To give you a sense of my perceptiveness, I will give you a few instances of perfect memories that I have. I have lived in America for almost 9 years now, and making constant trips back and forth between the homeland and the adopted land gave me peculiar senses of deja vu coupled with actual memories.

Things I never forget are how the Chhatrapati Shivaji Mumbai International airport floors look when you exit the aircraft and walk towards immigration. That black, red, and green plaid carpeting on the floor, with a sea of people walking over it in their hurry to get out into the warm, sticky air of Mumbai paired with the love of family waiting for them outside is an unparalleled feeling.

The exact instant when I walk out of the doors of the airport and see my family waiting for me expectantly behind the silver railings and waving and calling my attention in glee.

The drive back home through familiar, yet unfamiliar, roads at which point my mom always asks, “Do you remember this road, son?” and me responding indignantly “Of course, Ma!” while not actually knowing.

Walking into my home is, by far, among the top memories I recall, with the soft white light, always being left on in the living room, accompanied by a faint, musty smell left by mildly uncirculated air (windows are left closed due to mosquitoes in the neighborhood).

Taking a shower, more specifically, the moment the first drops of water from the shower-head always transports me back in time through all the previous visits I have made back home. Not sure what it is, but that first shower is a weirdly transcendental experience — perhaps more so because I ascertain so much weight to that experience.

Opening my bags to give the gifts that I cannot wait to give my family. Neither are these expensive things nor are they things they ever ask for. Instead it will be an assortment of the weirdest tchotchkes anyone else will see. Its a feeble attempt to get my family to experience tiny slivers of my life in the States.

Waking up the first morning to the aromatic smells of South Indian filter coffee wafting through the air along with the slight sour yet indescribable smell of dosas(rice pancakes)and freshly made chutney.

Me sitting at the kitchen counter and gobbling up to 10 of the softest and most delicious dosas you will find anywhere on this planet.

Post afternoon nap tea-times with the sugary milky tea that you can only find in India and the tete-a-tete with my mom and sisters you can find only in my home.

Incredible food at every single meal that my mom provides. I digress but the more I have been going back home the lesser I have been eating out because as time passes by I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a mom like this. Not only is she the greatest mother in her own right but truly excels at her craft which is cooking, through which she extracts immense pleasure.

The final hurried seconds of goodbye at the airport where I try to hug and kiss my family, before I depart into the airport terminal machinery, but it just seems way too fleeting and way too insufficient.

This list of memories is very conspicuous as are a bunch of others. However, across the timescale of my life, most experiences that occurred in the past are just foggy remnants. At the time, they will all be amazing moments from which I derive true happiness, by being with family and friends. However, in retrospect, they will be instances that won’t come to my mind unless I am poked and prodded. I am unsure as to what to do with these memories. These are all tremendously important, but don’t seem to stand the ravages of time. I lament over the memories that I don’t even know I know but I have a theory about this which seems plausible.

I attribute these nameless, faceless moments to the lack of “Anchor events”. Anchor events are what I term to be those moments which, due to whatever reason, are extremely consequential — in hindsight or otherwise. This could be due to, or a combination thereof, an outing or excursion that is different from the norm. It could also be an event — like a marriage, or some form of pain/anguish or some other experience that seems to transcend the mundane and rise over other experiences. In simpler terms, anchor events are moments that stand out from the slew of regular moments that we live. Do not mistake ‘regular’ to be boring or uninteresting. Instead think of regular as the tapestry of events, which when stitched together provide that underlying fabric of our life. Anchor events are more like the beautiful designs and patterns drawn on the fabric that draws your attention first to that piece of cloth.

Let me pose a question to you. For each year in the last 10 years, think of 3 memories or events that you remember distinctly from each of those years. You should end with about 30 memories by the end of this exercise. When I first thought of this question, I must admit that I did terribly. I barely ended up with 15 memories and there were huge swaths of time, sometimes several years at a stretch, where I just couldn’t remember what I did. The purpose of this exercise for me was to find out how I perceive to utilize my time in the short term and how that plays out in the long term.

For me personally, the biggest anchor events tend to be revolving around travel. If I have been to a new or exotic location, I will typically be able to recollect a large window of time around that travel event. For example, if you take 2014 and were to ask me what I did, I would be able to say that I did a Europe trip with my best friends in the summer. The rest of the year? No idea whatsoever. I mean sure I could go back and look at some form of social media or photos on my computer but off the top of my head, nada. There are other examples of anchor events I can recollect like graduations, weddings, particular birthdays and the like, but not much else.

I am willing to bet that recollection of just sacrosanct memories is some form of evolutionary mechanism to keep the brain’s memory highways free by not clogging it with unimportant information. However, we all know our brains are capable of a lot more that we use it for. As far as I know there is no seeming upper bound on how much I can remember from a particular year. If there are 7 distinct noteworthy events from a year, I will remember all of them. It seems unfortunate that we don’t have a backup disk for all our memories or a way to download them so we could peruse at our leisure. Maybe there will in the future, but at the moment it seems like I have a highlights reel of my memories over the halcyon years.

Thanks to InYong Chung for giving valuable grammar edits for this piece.