My love for words

Musings on everyday life

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Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 10 Aug 2023, 5:16 PM

In the first year of pre-university, the stepping stone to English medium education back home, I fell in love with a girl who sat on the front bench. Our class had students from far and wide, so choosing one of the freshest faces as partner was at the top of everyone’s elective curriculum. In the first couple of weeks, when others made acquainting with Clark’s Table a priority, I spent days and nights dreaming about a swarthy, hazel-eyed girl I had found for myself. A faceless black and white dream because I was never able to recollect her visage. It was an exercise in futility that left me thinking if I was a victim of prosopagnosia or face blindness.

Fears of prosopagnosia and many such disorders haunted me throughout my studies as I had a problem remembering anything academic — from chemistry formulae and mathematical theorems to Mughal kings and their capitals, and Chinese explorers and corresponding dynasties to British viceroys and their achievements. It took one year for chemistry professor Thomas to debunk my disorder theory. “You don’t attend classes, that’s your disorder.”

But language is a different ballgame. I love words — only some words wouldn’t love me back. I don’t claim to be a language nerd but I am certainly a logophile. And a self-styled grammarian who still believes in classicism. I take note of every good word or phrase that comes my way and put it to use at the next available occasion as part of a conscious effort to fatten my mental thesaurus. But there’s a gang of words who play truant and refuse to pledge allegiance to me.

The ruffians use the right time to play hide-and-seek, striking mostly when I am rushing my column or having an animated conversation with an important person. It’s very embarrassing to call your juniors and tell them you are looking for a word as Plain Jane as, say, nostalgia. Then, you rummage through your piggy bank for an allegory to describe how the word is doing a tap dance on the tip of your tongue, blah blah blah. By which time, the friend would have spit out the word, hung up and left. The most irritating part of the mind game is that the words would take out a rally when you don’t need their service at all.

One such ‘offender’ that often evades my arrest is ‘steroid’. During our hospital visits to treat wifey’s knee issues, it is customary for orthopedic surgeons to ask about past treatments, and I would smash a coconut or two to pay obeisance to Athena, Ganesha and Saraswati before I set off to hospital so that the deities would come to my rescue and help extricate the word ‘steroid’ out of my system.

Another suspect is ‘serendipity’. The serendipity of getting the word right even at the most unlikely time has not occurred to me. This is one word I have written down on a post-it note and stuck in the dictionary. The curse of not being able to remember my darling word, something I have learned to live with, also raises the question if I am suffering from primary progressive aphasia, the difficulty of finding the right word and remembering somebody’s name.

Talking about aphasia, I guess I am not making an earnest effort to remember names that I think aren’t of any concern to me, such as the Gen Zs of Bollywood. Arundhati Roy is one such person who refused to stay in my cognition, let alone heart. Every time I shackle her to my memory, she breaks free and disappears into oblivion. I am also not as prolific as I am supposed to be on the A-list of certain fields where I don’t claim to be an expert. Just the other day, designer Emad was making the magazine cover when I turned around and asked who the newsmaker was.

“You don’t know? Even an Egyptian like me knows, Mr Suresh.” I looked around in embarrassment as it happened to be a top Bollywood actress.

By now, I have developed a mechanism to remember such elusive words. For ‘steroid’, I would start with ‘stereo’, which would ultimately lead me to my destination. Nose is my short cut to nostalgia while ‘umbrella’ is the signpost to the word ‘umbilical’. The way ‘Global Village’ takes me for a ride is puzzling as I am a person who has been visiting the best Dubai destination ever since its inception. By the time I manage to pull out the pair of words — I still haven’t found a shortcut to them — from the deep freezers in my brain, one could circumnavigate the globe in a jet.

However, there are times when the faucet overflows. The human brain is so unpredictable it sometimes churns out memories like a misguided Xerox machine, endangering the happiness of its master. Like how Google Photos throws the images of some old flames for a public display when you are the last one to wake up in the morning. The brain is a wicked cynic in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Are you there? Do you remember the woman, a friend of your colleague, who came to Vava’s birthday party?” Wifey craned her neck to watch me.

“Are you talking about the fair lady in a lavender lehenga? And had her hair plaited in two like in a Bollywood classic? She’s Adhishri Abinav Acharya working for an Irish corporate. Originally from Pushkar. And you know what, she’s a divorcee. I think I have her number.”

“Who said you have aphasia? You are a fraud.” The sun set at noon after a thunderstorm.

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