Walking down sunset boulevard

Memory plays tricks with us in the silver years — and sometimes we even forget what we have forgotten.

My days are numbered… I have nothing to offer and nothing to preach… I know nothing of enlightenment.

Gautama Buddha

Perhaps, the most irritating infirmity of advancing age is forgetfulness as the deteriorating hippocampus causes change in cognitive skills. Misplaced keys, names forgotten, the inability to recollect the title or storyline of a recently watched film — the list is endless and, at times, facetious.

Recently, in a TV show, a sexagenarian was seen explaining to a septuagenarian anchor that his fingers did not move as fast as he would like them to. The anchor, having dittoed the ailment, recounted a situation from his own life when after entering a room looking for his mobile phone, he forgot why he had come into the room. He requested his wife to help him find the reason.

Quite naturally, he got a reply he richly deserved: “How the hell do I know?”

What’s this vegetable?

For a person reputed to have a photographic memory as a student, I find it traumatic forgetting the name of the vegetable on my plate. Of course, mnemonic tricks, electronic devices and if nothing else, the good old “to-do” lists are of great help. But they are not of much use if you misplace something — unless, of course, you GPS-enable them all.

The fear of forgetfulness makes you start doing something while you are busy with something else, lest you forget. I end up finding my purse where I keep my cupboard keys and vice-versa, after a frenetic search of an hour or even half a day. I have started missing out a particular medicine which I am supposed to take first thing in the morning.

But memory has an uncanny way of striking back. While watching an old classic on TV, my wife and I often fail to recollect the name of a then famous heroine. While desperately trying to make an intelligent guess, we start hurling names at each other, which only makes the situation worse and results in chaos. Occasionally, however, there comes a Eureka moment.

What’s better is that the knowledge and wisdom acquired through experience remain intact, much to the chagrin of their unsuspecting targets.

As we fight this losing battle of wits, we do engage in various cerebral activities, such as Sudoku and Spellathon, to keep our minds active. I try recalling the names of the radio jockeys of my favourite devotional music programme and the names of the nine incarnations of Durga, among other gods, and attempt to commit to memory the gist of an important news item of the day, while continuing to assist my wife in her search for misplaced items. But neologism is upon us and new words are being coined thick and fast; and it is becoming difficult to keep track of them — for example, geobragging and mitthead.

Loss of hearing

Among all other age-related ailments, the loss of hearing is perhaps the most treacherous, next only to failing memory. We have started hearing each other say things which have not at all been said. It leads to a not-so-funny acrimonious debate, on certain occasions. The conversation is not really enriched by the fact that I have no use for my right ear, which makes my left ear the “right” ear. It is the same with other people as well, particularly the maid, who speaks a diabolic dialect.

Other telltale signs of ageing are loose skin on the face, neck and palm top, a little unsteadiness of gait (not induced by a peg too many), teeth coming off here and there, and an occasional pain in the knuckles, ankle and the knee. A slip here and a fall there do not make things any better. Dozing off while watching a movie in the cinema hall has become a common occurrence; my Fitbit watch routinely records such sessions as sleeping periods.

But when all is done and dusted, during my 30-minute morning “brisky”, I am able to outpace most of my cohorts and even some younger persons. But I am sure that, sooner or later, I will be inching forward with an unsteady gait and a walking stick in tow. So be it, so long as I am able to see the departure gate clearly.

(The writer is a former Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha)

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