Thank God I Remember That Face

But the name is a whole different struggle to remember

Photo by Rob Schreckhise on Unsplash

Forgetful Aunts

I recently read an article that talked about forgetting people’s names. I recalled all the situations where I have encountered this phenomenon. Soon, I was laughing all by myself at some of the memories.

Several decades ago, when we were much younger and found everything funny, I remember that there were a couple of aunts afflicted with short term memory loss as far as names went.

Picture this. One of these aunts is trying to narrate an incident to someone. She wants to say that person X had come home. Obviously, she has forgotten X’s name.

What does anyone normally do under such circumstances? Wait for a bit and try to recall the name. Not this aunt, though. She would start rattling off all names that came to her mind at that point.

Sometimes the listener would have to go through as many as 10 names before they got to X. And all this while, the listener is left wondering who she was referring to.

This aunt’s daughter (my cousin) is actually pretty peeved with her. Who wouldn’t be! The aunt goes through so many names to get to her own daughter’s name! My cousin told me that even the house help, the vegetable vendor, and the milkman make it in the list before aunty remembers her name! She was suitably upset!

Wait. To add insult to injury, the aunt remembers her son’s name within 2–3 names. It is the daughter that goes through the milkman and the dearly departed family dog. The daughter can’t stop ranting about it. I feel for her.

The other aunt had a similar affliction. There was one episode where her son was right in front of her. She started the conversation by trying to address him. It took a while since she had to traverse through the names of folks in the entire neighborhood. Finally, my cousin gave up. He said, ‘Mom, I am here in front of you. Just tell me what you have to’.

Have to give credit where credit is due. My aunts may have trouble recalling names. But they have no gender or species bias. While coming up with likely names for the person they want to refer to, they do not worry about the gender of the person in question. Both male and female names come up. And I say no species bias because pet dogs and cats also make it to the list. Can you blame me for being proud of them for their unbiased world-view?

We used to laugh a lot when we heard of or witnessed these episodes. Not anymore.

At least, not since I called my daughter by my pet hamster’s name.

How the Brain Stores Information About People

Nowadays, I find myself struggling to remember the names of people.

I don’t laugh at my aunts anymore. On the contrary, they hear some of my own stories and laugh at me.

How time turns the tables…hmph!

I feel like each person I have met has a tiny storage container in my brain. Everything about them is stored in that container. The door of the container is closed, and the face is pasted on top. Neatly bolted down below the face is a small nameplate with the person’s name written in a lovely script.

Terrible sketch by Anu Anniah

Sometimes, the screw holding down the nameplate becomes loose, and if no one is looking, it just falls off. So now we have a container with the face, but no name.

When I face the person, my brain tries hard to retrieve the information, but it just can’t find the nameplate. Whose fault is that? Poor brain.

That’s what happens to me. I recognize the face, but I just cannot remember the name.

Until the maintenance folks within my brain find the fallen nameplate and fix it back, there is no hope.

In fact, there are instances where those maintenance folks fixed the wrong nameplate, and that creates a whole new problem.

Weddings and Such Like Social Gatherings

I am not normally shy about going to social gatherings. But nowadays, I tremble like a leaf in a storm when I need to go to a gathering.

Folks that one meets or interacts with everyday pose no problem. But at a wedding, you meet relatives whom you haven’t seen in decades.

There is still an off chance that you can go to such weddings, hang out with folks you know, actually have some fun, and slip away without incident.

Not when the wedding is infested with a certain type of relative. The type that will stand in front of your face and ask loudly, ‘Remember who I am?

Of course, I don’t! Your nameplate has long since rusted and crumbled to powder. Even the maintenance folks can’t fix it.

Or worse, the nameplate doesn’t have the real name. It has the ‘behind their back’ nickname that is obviously not flattering. Something like Somberi Subbu (lazy Subbu). I can’t mention this, and the real name is not documented.

The Worst Episode Ever

One can somehow slime their way out of most of these situations, maybe with a slightly red face.

But I faced the worst situation, a state where there was no way to slime out.

I was once in a meeting room with a few others. We were waiting to join the meeting from India. Other attendees were expected from other parts of the world.

Suddenly, the guy next to me turned to me and asked me to send him the meeting invite. For some reason, he couldn’t find it in his mailbox.

I said, ‘Sure’ very brightly, turned to my Microsoft Outlook, opened the invite, and was about to type his name. Small catch.

I could not remember his name.

I was embarrassed. A colleague. I see him every day. He is right next to me at the meeting. The nameplate must be shiny new and bolted down well. Just can’t seem to read it. Later, I will ask the maintenance folks to check the font size. But…what now?

He was watching and waiting patiently. I opened the Instant Messenger. I told him I will message him the link. Why I imagined the IM would give me a clue about him, I am not sure. It didn’t help. It just sat there waiting for me to type his name.

I gave up.

I turned to him hesitantly and said,

I am so sorry. I have forgotten your name.

Credit to him. He did not bat an eyelid. Not a muscle twitched on his face. He calmly told me his name, and I sent him the invite.

Through the rest of the meeting, I just sat quietly in the Hall of Shame.

Obviously I pondered over this episode for a while. And then it hit me.

I should have asked him my name!!

Maybe he is afflicted with the same malady, and that’s why he didn’t react at all. Just like I have stopped laughing at my aunts…

Thanks to Ryan Fan’s article about forgetting names that sent me down memory lane…heh heh..and prompted me to write this one!

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