I am typing this in a coffee shop and I probably look like a prat. I should think, were I passing me, there’s a prat. He has a perfectly good home but he’s here at a coffee shop and he’s typing away. He’s performing being a writer. Or he’s performing being the kind of person who is allowed to work in a coffee shop.
Truth is, I don’t have much choice in the matter. I have locked myself out again. I do this on a fairly regular basis, but this time it’s faintly annoying because I was just saying, “I put my keys into my haversack because that saves me the hassle of rushing around looking for them when I have to leave. It saves me ten minutes a day… no, five, at least.”
This is because I have a small home and it is comparatively easy to find things if you misplace them. And, I misplace things by the dozen. It began in school, where I seemed able to lose a pencil every day. I still don’t know how it happened. A friend said that some of the class boys must have been stealing my pencils. Perhaps. Or, they fell out of my bag. Or, something.
This extended to losing mobile phones. I have lost more than 30 phones in the 15 years that I have had one. I know I got my first just before the millennium because I had my first dotcom job then and it was a horrible letting-down of the side if you were not as connected as you could be. Now, you can be three times as connected, three generations more connected. There are many young people whose smart phones are so central to their lives that they no longer check anything as horribly old-fashioned as email. But back in the day, 15 years ago, having a mobile was all you needed to be as wired as you wanted to be.
I suppose I lost all those mobiles because I don’t want to have a mobile. It seems like a damned nuisance most of the time. That’s the pop-Freudian explanation. No mistakes, only things we do because we want to do them secretly. I don’t buy this. Because it makes perfect people of us all. If it was no mistake, if you were driven to send the SMS you meant for a colleague, a mildly disrespectful of the boss SMS, to your boss, because you wanted him to see it, then you’re not really ever doing anything wrong.
And, I could be sitting at home right now, as I want to be.
What do we choose to remember? What do we choose to forget? It is possible to watch people make the same mistakes again and again. You think of a friend who has an affair with a woman who is manipulating him, “Poor chap.” His heart bruised, you hand him drinks and listen to his drunken outpourings. Then, a year later, he’s with her twin. Or, even with the same person. A Parsi friend told me of a woman called Bachi Borgia. (I have changed the name slightly, yes. Don’t write in and correct me.) She was married to a lawyer and she tried to kill him. The dhobi got her the poison, and she administered it. Nothing was ever proved, but the man divorced the woman and told his partners in the law firm — who had all swarmed around, helpfully providing points of law — that he needed a break and was going off to Kashmir to recover. He even sent them some postcards from there, but later the awful news broke: he had not gone to Kashmir. Instead, he had married the same woman again.
Why would he do that? Did he forget? Could he forget?
It is easy, it would seem, to forget the good done to us. The evil that men do lives on after them, as Shakespeare wrote, the good is oft interred with their bones. We tend to be elephants in our memory for insults and slights; we seem to be goldfish in our memory of help and support. Ask anyone who specialises in good turns. She will tell you with a heartfelt sigh of the many times she has gone unacknowledged, all her help forgotten. But, it would seem that she too has memory problems. She too does not remember because she’s off to do another ingrate another favour.
On the national level, we have an acute case of amnesia. Nothing is remembered, nothing is recorded. The hero worship of any leader, dead or alive, represents amnesia. It means you must forget some of the things he did, some of the things he said, some of his opinions. Likewise, the demonisation of anyone. Stereotypes function in the same way for each time we reach for a stereotype in order to explain why X has behaved in a certain way, we choose to forget how surprised and hurt we were when we were the victim of the same exercise. And, we choose to ignore the interlocutor who is listening and thinking, “How like a (member of X gender/sexuality/race/religion/class/community/caste) to think in stereotypes.”
Memory is a bitch. But, if I had remembered to put my keys into my haversack, I would probably still be casting around for an idea on which to pitch this column’s tent.
Jerry Pinto is the author of the prize-winning novel Em and the Big Hoom (Aleph), a novel in which a Mumbai-based family tries to cope with Em, who suffers from bipolar disorder that often makes her try to take her own life.