The Blessed Absent-Mindedness

by Chandrika R Krishnan

A human brain is a versatile organ. “No computer can duplicate its myriad functions,” to quote Reader’s Digest. In spite of it we are assailed by forgetfulness, which proves to be sometimes very convenient.

This temporary amnesia, which affects all of us from time to time particularly with the things we borrow, is really convenient except maybe, to the lender!  Here I’m not talking about big amounts borrowed. In that case neither the borrower will forget nor will the lender allow him to forget. Do we remember the time when we ran out of change? I’m talking about those measly sums like $1 a few rupees, which you happen to borrow. It could even be a book or a C.D, a cassette or the proverbial cup of sugar. These little things happen to slip out of our mind as quickly as they’re borrowed. Ages back, I had read an essay, My Lost Dollar by Stephen Leacock who lent $1 to his friend and even after years he couldn’t get this off his mind. How true this is. The dollar is hardly going to make a huge hole in our pocket but it still rankle us from time to time.

My uncle being a book lover had this to say, “I hate those who forget to return my books.” Once he had to purchase back his own book from a second-hand shop. How it happened to reach there is anybody’s guess. He loves to borrow pens (here I mean the non-returnable ones) but he feels strongly about non-returnable books! I remember when a friend returned my C.D after 6-7 months and that too a damaged one. I recall that I saw red at that time. When does this temporary amnesia, which we are partial to occur? I realize that if we are generally indifferent to people or their belongings we generally tend to forget. This does not mean that the person is selfish. Invariably he too is not so particular if the delay is from the other end. The moot point is what happens if the other person is a frequent borrower and an infrequent returnee? This is a dicey situation. We then have to think of scintillating excuses like the kinds of “what a coincidence! I too need a similar amount. I was hoping that you would be in a position to lend……” This is a sure way to stop the person to come to you again.

We can also adopt a more direct approach, “would you please return the tenner which you borrowed the other day?” A word of warning here no one likes the direct approach but it would save us from fuming and fretting and letting the incident sour our relationship. Be prepared for the snide remarks. There is a time in our lives particularly if we are touched often to choose between a good night’s sleep and maintaining a superficially good relationship. I believe that a good friendship is one where we never cross the thin line of close camaraderie and privacy. Non-refundable items are a sure way to break the friendship.

My late-parents had a kind of circulating library. My mother lived with a grouse. She said people had a very bad tendency of not sending across the book, once they have finished reading. “Like a youngster I have to go and collect the book and the most galling is that it’s my own book,” was her oft-repeated complaint. This malfunction of our cerebrum not only occurs in material things, it also affects in the words that we speak. We rarely if at all remember the times we let loose harsh words. The receiver of these words has a memory of an elephant! Of course he too must be afflicted by loss of memory to the harsh words he had spoken. How true it is to the adage “Words once uttered can never be captured”

However, you have the others ‘the well-intentioned people’ who are very free with their advice. I still remember as if yesterday to the unsolicited advice given by my new acquaintance when I landed in Indonesia some eight years back. “You have made a blunder! Education is hopeless here. I would take back my children the next year.” Being new to that place I spent many a sleepless nights wondering if I had played with my children’s future. Four years later, I came back to India and she was still there.  I am sure the said person would have completely forgotten this incident but I for one remember the mental agony I went through the first month when everyone would have teething problems in a new place. We have solutions right from an excellent diet schedule the other person must follow to lose their obesity, to bringing up of their children and from the way they treat their maids to the pets they should choose. Maybe there is a streak of sadism in all of us when we upset someone with our misplaced advice. Obese people or very skinny people would doubtless agree with me when someone would have hurt them deeply in a party or in a private gathering. The offender would completely forget the incident but the person involved would never forget it. My grandmother used to caution me saying “Be very careful of what you say.”

She passed on many years back and I am still to learn this particular piece of wisdom. I too am a great one at giving unsolicited advice (the reason for this article!) Surprisingly, words that we speak without thought of its implications are bound to revert back to us. You only have to say I would never be seen dead in this situation and bingo you are in the middle of it.

    Like the famous quote of Shakespeare, “the evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones;” The help others have done to you in time of need also has a short-term memory. The help you have done has long-term implications. Once again our amnesia comes to our aid! Of course none of us are perfect and it takes all kinds of imperfections to make this perfect world (?) attractive.


This was published in The Jakarta Post in 2001

This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’
hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla
in collaboration with Dr. Preeti Chauhan.

Image by LOLOGO from Pixabay


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1 comment

ambica gulati July 15, 2024 - 7:12 am

Very educative and thought provoking. Selective memory is a strange process. Most of the times, I don’t remember the good things, but tend to keep the hurts and wounds alive. I think, we need to process both memories equally and live a balanced life.


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