on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
I'm not very good with remembering faces. In fact, I'm not very good with names either. And to be frank, I'm even less good at putting names and faces together.

It's not that I have a memory problem, as such. Not at all. I still remember climbing up and down the staircase in my uncle's house in London when I was two. I also remember befriending a priest on the flight back home. I remember things I did in the US when I was nine. I even remember conversations I've had when I was ten.

But when it comes to faces and names, I think the associated part of my brain is probably missing some nervous tissue. (Yes, I know. The whole of my brain is probably missing some nervous tissue. But can we not get into that now?)

To give you an example, every time I return to Chennai after a trip to the US, I bump into people who I'm supposed to know, but I just cannot place. I may be casually walking towards the cafeteria, when someone vaguely familiar will come up and say "Hi!"

Now, I may not be a master of tact, but I do try my best (yes, I know it isn't good enough, but that's another story) not to be rude. So instead of saying "Who are you?" I say "Hi", ask some random questions like "So which project are you working for now?" and "How are you doing?" and move on, wondering where I know this person from. Attempts at looking at their ID card to get their name, are not always successful. After all I don't want it to be obvious.

There are some people who I know quite well, and remember exactly how I know them, but their names will always elude me. Then there are people whose names I remember very clearly, but I would have trouble recognizing exactly which of the four people sitting in that room is, say, "Mahesh".

A friend once introduced me to his girlfriend, who seemed to know me, though I didn't recognize her at all. "We played carrom together earlier this year," she said. "Oh yes!" was my reply. I still don't know what she was talking about.

A couple of weeks ago, I was passing someone in the corridor who looked familiar, and immediately said "Hi!" Now it would have been fine, except that she seemed a little taken aback at this, even though she did respond. In the sixty seconds that I spent talking to her, I realized she was probably just someone I'd seen around the office and had never actually spoken to, and that she was just too polite to point that out. I still don't know what her name is.

And yesterday, I ran into someone who (1) did not look familiar and (2) whose name I did not recognize either. That, of course, didn't stop us from having a conversation that lasted at least two minutes. I even answered his question of "So how long has it been since we met last?", correctly. I was pretty proud of myself at that. I have this sneaky suspicion though, that I really don't know him and that he actually mistook me for someone else.

But the most interesting example of this fault of mine is from a while back.

(Note: Names have been altered)

I'd joined a new project at work, and was told I'd be working with Bhavna, though we wouldn't be sitting together initially. Bhavna was someone I'd seen around the office and whose name I definitely recognized, though I may have only spoken to her once.

She'd come over to my seat, we'd discussed something, and I'd then proceeded to work in it. At some point, I decided I wasn't clear about something and that I needed to discuss it further. I'd forgotten to take her extension, so I decided I'd just go over to her seat and talk to her. She only sat a couple of cubicles away anyway.
[For the benefit of the non-technically inclined out there, and also due to non-disclosure agreements with our clients, I'm going to replace all the technical words in the following conversation with completely irrelevant non-technical ones. It won't make any sense either way.]

Me: Hey Bhavna, I have a question about the {evolutionary tendencies of tadpoles}...

She: [turning to me, and realizing that I'm speaking to her] Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't listening. Can you please start again?

Me: Oh. Okay. Well, it's about the {tadpoles} see? I mean I know we're supposed to {get them to give birth to monkeys} but don't you think that {was exactly what my mother warned me about} ? See, on the one hand you have {tadpoles} and on the other hand you have {orangutans} and somehow I think they just don't seem to go together. I mean even if we could get that to happen, {who would feed the little apes}? There'll always be the risk of {the babies swallowing their moms}...

[She'd looked quite blank when I'd started speaking, and she continued to look just as blank as I rambled on. And then I realized that that wasn't Bhavna. I knew her, and had spoken to her before - spoken to her more than I'd spoken to Bhavna at least - but she definitely was not Bhavna. And she'd probably not heard me call her that either.]

Me: Well, anyway, so I was a little confused about that. By the way, do you know where Bhavna sits?

She: [probably thinking I was a little nuts (okay, extremely nuts)] Oh, I think over in that cubicle.

Me: Thanks.

[At this point, I sort of slinked away.]

Imagine talking to two different people over a period of time - people who don't even look alike - and believing they are the same person. At least Jaggu had an excuse in Chaalbaaz (1989).

So, now that you know my little secret, the next time you run into me, and go "Hi! Where have you been?!", if I look a little blank, please don't mind, okay?


anantha said...

Jaggu! Chaalbaaz! Teri maa ki aankh! :D LOL...
Yeh Manju hai, crack hai! ROTFL!

But ya, I know the feeling. But in my case, its kind of the opposite. I remember each face very well. But not the names. So I can go to someone that I havent met, talk to them about something we ahve in common and not remember their names at all. All the conversation needs, for starters, is a simple Hi! And even if the other person exclaims my name, I just say a loud happy (and yet uncomfortable hiiii) and get to the part thats relevant to me. :D

Kusum Rohra said...

I guess this happens to all of us at some point of time. Recently i was at a clients place for XYZ project and then there is this huge group of 10 men walk to me and smile... for the life of me i counld not recollect who they were and why were they smiling at me,I was once an employee for this client, and this office has some 5000 employees which makes it worse as i cant remember that do i know them because they are our clients or do i know them because i workied with them, so i just smile and depening on the questions they ask i know how they are related to me... as ex-colleagues or as clients!!! Like if they ask "so where are you working now?" i know they are not clients !! heheh ( hhmm one long comment)

Hey totally nt relate to this post but i must say this I recently read the comments on meghalomania where u transformed from a cross dresser tiffin wala to an oscar winning dude! the whole thing was hilarious!

Anwin said...

Therapy MIGHT help...pls note the emphasis on "might".

but then, its true...I have a terrible problem on the same grounds. can't remember a face or can't place the face or name...but conversations generally go unhindered for atleast 2 minutes. If it goes more than that...its time to confess.

Kiran Mayee said...

Its a long time since I dropped in. :-) But, reading your post reminds me of my situation where in I get to know each and every person who works in the same building. I donno how, but, I tend to remember faces very well, and many names. Sometimes, names, if not faces. And some of my good friends, I havent met them till now.

dumbs said...


sometimes i forget my phone number (well i rarely call my mobile)