Earliest memories

While preparing for an upcoming trip to Punjab, I am trying to think if I can remember anything from the two years I spent (age 2-4), in a small town somewhere in the district of Jalandhar. I don’t want to ask my family members as it may ‘force and contaminate’ my brain into a virtual image-a-thon. However, what would be an average age from when a person starts to remember events?

I can barely remember Punjab. Except that there was a magic show on one of our neighbor’s rooftop one evening. I do remember that the magician had taken a jar of wheat and turned it into Parle Gs. I also remember that there were days after that when I had expected my mother to do the same. Although, I can’t remember the disappointment associated with those expectations, because…well I would have known if she was PC Sarkar…by now!

The next I remember, is from a visit to Bhakra Nangal and I do recollect someone from the dam explaining a lot of things to a rapt audience and me being amazed with the power of water that is suddenly released from imprisonment, not to mention a deer trapped in the water, trying hopelessly to maneuver the raging river (it could be my first near death memory!).

According to a research study by a group in Cornell University and Memorial University of Newfoundland, on an average, children can remember events accurately from around 3.5 year of age onwards, however, gradually as they grow older, ‘childhood amnesia’ occurs and the memories become postdated and most, begin to fade out (http://www.ncb i.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24588518). Additionally, ‘childhood amnesia’ seems to occur between 7-8 yrs of age; as published by a group from Emory (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025992/). Hence after that, most of our memory from the previous years, begin to decay.

What goes wrong between 7-8? Why do we forget substantial amount of childhood events that occurred prior to that? It seems that high neurogenesis or nerve cell generation in the brain during infancy, and in its memory site (hippocampus) causes ‘re-wiring’, due to which there is some decay and loss in being able to remember http://science.sciencemag.org/content/344/6184/598 .

But what about specific memories, like the memory of smell? Olfactory memory is very evolved and has been shown to be necessary for both survival and communication in the animal kingdom. The smells of childhood remain. I do ‘remember’ what my grandmother’s home smelt like, where I lived for a year at age 5. Even today, while going through old yellowed photographs, I can recollect how the house and particularly she smelt. These are pleasant memories, smells of happy association and of a nurturing environment.

We usually remember smells with distinct associations. Similar to the smell of flowers and being able to separate and associate each fragrance with a single type of flower. It was at her house I had smelt Shiuli for the first time, a very sweetly fragrant and pretty white flower. It has remained my most favorite to this day. Scientists have recently presented that an inability to distinguish or identify smell can be an early indicator to decline in memory (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=2636 ). Hmmm…I wonder why my coffee smells like tea!

Memory is a very complex and intriguing aspect of cognition. It helps us develop our individual and distinct personalities. While I am excited to travel to a place from my childhood, I hope to make new memories this time, and hope too that I will be able to remember every one of them for a few more years to come, at least!


Life’s ironies

We plan for our futures with great care and patience, and then life decides to host its own entertainment show. I am not indicating the small hindrances, that take us off route by a small distance, but those that take a life time to come to terms with and at the end, still leave us unsure.
Take for instance Charles Darwin (sorry if those of you who know me exclaim here she goes again! But that man himself, was the biggest, most complex experiment ever on this planet). Here was a man on his way to become a clergyman, sailing on a boat to perhaps the most beautiful island on earth, and the last thing he had was a vacation through life!

What would I have done, if my profession was to preach the almighty’s attention to detail for each and every organism and which was personally handcrafted and bam! all I ended up doing was to collect evidence that there was no customized handcrafting and tender supervision, but species arose from outdoing themselves on an intense competitive race to survival. Before, I could even begin to devise logical arguments for others to accept my new theories, the first roadblock would be to convince myself about how my beliefs and conventions would shape up when all my years and years of thought processes would slowly have to make space for new, extreme ones.
If I were to meet him today, I would be very interested to know Darwin’s thoughts on religion more than his exciting voyages and well documented facts on evolution. However, from the historian’s accounts, it appears that he may have chosen a path that took him to a direction of evidence based research and spirituality at the same time, like a middle ground. That he had a sensitive and almost kind view of the almighty is reflected in his bitterness for the wasp that paralyzes caterpillars for nourishing its own eggs, the selfish act that Darwin indicated, cannot be an act of god.
There is nothing wrong in walking the mid path. We are free to believe in what makes us work and if being spiritual only nudges us towards the truth around us, so be it. Darwin never thought of himself as an atheist, although, towards the later part of his life, could not describe himself with certainty when it came to religious beliefs. It probably doesn’t matter. His contribution to science will continue to awe and inspire till there’s life on our planet. In spite of all odds, Darwin followed his passion. His drive to truly understand  natural scientific processes around him and more importantly elucidate his understanding of them, mattered more to him than anything else.

Many of us have and many of us will be faced with challenges such as these (but yes, there will be only ONE Darwin… at least for me!). However, we do not have to completely give up on our resident belief systems to accommodate space for the new ones.  Instead, we probably need to harmonize and create a path to seek whatever drives our hearts, instead of making a choice and not believing in that completely.

On his journey, Darwin did find compassionate and patient company around him, who may not have completely agreed with his thinking, nor understood them. However, they did support him as a person in providing him the strength he needed to seek his truth. Maybe that is the support we all need and seek, the patience to fit us all in, irrespective of our beliefs.
Alright, enough of preaching, but here’s a list of online goodies if you are interested to read more on….ahem…Darwin-

(Books-  Darwin: The life of a tormented evolutionist, Adrian Desmond and James Moore;  The autobiography of Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin , editor Nora Barlow)


Some fifteen years ago, when I first read Humayun Ahmed’s Himu, I completely understood why someone would make a habit out of aimlessly walking through the narrow streets of their locality and be able to sustain themselves by merely bonding with everyone in their environment. There was nothing unnatural in a person who did not have a normal day job or a proper home where he could rest at night or a friend circle that consisted of the same people one was used to catching up with, after a long day’s work.
I am sure, that we have seen or experienced a ‘Himu’ in our neighborhood, or within our own family or friend circle. I am also positive, that sometimes, we have thought and pondered about transforming into a ‘Himu’, just so to lose ourselves from our usual selves of following a ‘natural’ pattern. The fame of Himu and the popularity of Humayun Ahmed’s entire series on Himu, does indicate that not only I, but there are several others, who are equally attracted and mesmerized by his characteristics.

Was Himu trying to make a statement in protest of the usualness of the society? Did he defy norms by not expecting anything from life, by not having an ambition to succeed in his chosen career or save for a rainy day? Did he never wish for a family that understood and sheltered him in a four walled enclosure, or the comfort of his own bed where he could curl up into a fetal position in the darkest hour of the night?
Maybe not. Maybe, he was content with the ‘now’. However, the same society that upholds expectations, stable career, adult responsibilities, reached out to accommodate the ‘odd’ Himu and feed him an occasional minimalist, but hot meal. However, his life without expectations is what draws us to him.

Sometimes, even relationships that do not harbor expectations touch us and make themselves unforgettable. For instance, the bond between Fenno and Malachy in Julia Glass’s ‘Three Junes’. The book depicts how two people randomly brought together by life in a busy metropolis, can support each other sans expectations. Its empathy that bonds human beings to each other and to their environment. Empathy does have the power to sustain our planet.

While our society teaches us orderliness and structure, to remind us of being the most evolved species, our human-ness lets us know that it’s alright to sometimes, give up, not to follow norms, be on our own…for we will find kindred spirits on our own journeys and be grateful for our lives.

(So am I someone who is contained in the structures of society or living a life of boundless unrestrainedness?
I am both…. and grateful!)