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Putting a name to a face

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How not to deceive people into believing that you recognised them and remembered their names

I was all of 19 when I discovered that my brain had two major defects.

“Agnosia is a medical condition in which the patient fails to recognise familiar things. A common type of agnosia is one in which the patient struggles to remember the faces of people. It’s due to a defect in the base of the brain,” my professor said in class blandly.

“Another common brain defect is one in which the patient fails to remember the names of familiar people. This problem arises from a defect in the left side of the brain.”

It was a moment of truth for me. But, over the years, I perfected the art of deceiving listeners into believing that I recognised them and remembered their names.

The other day, I bumped into my daughter’s class teacher. “Hello, doctor,” she greeted me with that ring of familiarity which I dread. “Hello, madam,” I replied putting on my most ingratiating smile. “So how is my little one doing?” “Doctor,” she gushed, “It’s very sweet of you to say, ‘your little one’.”

“The last parent-teacher meeting must have been quite a strain on you,” I said. “Oh!” she said puzzled. “But my child is only one year old. Isn’t that too early for school?” “Already a year old, is he?” “She, not he. Doctor, I don’t think you recognise me at all. How could you forget the little girl who had passed greasy, green potty for more than a month?” “Aha! How could I forget,” I said, trying not to gag on my pista ice-cream.

Exclusive club

Another time, I met a doctor who said, “I didn’t know you worked in this institute. What a pleasant surprise!” I replied with equal cheer, “Hey! After so many years! And how’s the family?”

“I will always remember the wonderful time my family had with you and your wife,” he said. “For old times’ sake, why don’t you join us for dinner tonight,” I invited him.

We had a wide-ranging conversation over a lavish buffet. But he refused to drop any hint. “There, you, in your halcyon days,” he showed a photo. For a moment, I panicked, thinking my agnosia had got so bad that I couldn’t recognise even myself. Luckily, my wife said, “Oh, come on, that’s not him. And honestly, I can’t recognise you or your wife.”

Finally, I asked him gingerly, “Aren’t you Dr. Mahesh Gupta, who had trained in Sydney?” “No,” he replied in shock. “Aren’t you Dr. Bhajendra Nath Pande, my former colleague from Lucknow?”

Two jaws dropped in unison. I wasn’t alone in this universe. “Welcome…,” I said feebly, after a pause. “…to the club,” he completed.

sourabhdutta1@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 1:03:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/putting-a-name-to-a-face/article30420479.ece

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