Embarrassing. It felt worse than what this word suggests. He was not a friend – merely an acquaintance, but we used to travel to school together, waiting endlessly for the bus to arrive, jumping into it even before it came to a halt, rushing to grab the best seat. But at that time when he spotted me in the same bus, it had been three years after school and we were going to different colleges and never had a chance to catch up.
His name ? I just couldn’t get it.
He caught me blinking even as he excitedly shook my hands and enquired about the new phase of my life. I still managed to have a full thirty minute conversation without having to refer to his name. That was until when my new friend turned up and I had to introduce the strangers to each other. “Meet my school mate, ummmm…”.
Eventually, I discovered my erstwhile fellow bus traveller as Gopi – the name I struggled to fetch and the one he had to announce it himself. It was awkward. Yeah, that’s the word.
I have good memory. Anyone who has passed their exams from an Indian University during the 90’s would be never found wanting on that aspect. But I have always struggled to remember names of people. I have tried various techniques – to picture film stars of similar names, or to understand its meaning and co-relate to their personality etc. It all went for a toss, when I began networking at the work place, meeting so many people from different cultures and countries. Add to that, the challenges in pronouncing them correctly.
Turns out, that are some good reasons why this happens. An article from the Daily Mail explains why the brain struggles to retain a name – a random information with little connection or correlation to the person. One of the reasons it says is that we may not be so interested in the person and hence the brain would hardly make an attempt. I wonder if it is also due to the enormous amount of data feed that goes into us every day.
I saw an old interview of the veteran Tamil film actor, late Poornam Viswanathan who was once a news reader with All India Radio. He recalled his broadcasting days – he had the great privilege in announcing India’s independence in his Tamil bulletin. At 5:30 am on the morning of August 15, 1947, swelling with pride, he had begun, “All India Radio…seithigal vaasippathu (news read by) ……….”. He forgot his name! After a few excruciating seconds, he recovered from the brain fade and went on to declare his name followed by the most important news that he ever presented.
These days, I employ this trick which works well in some occasions: I ask for their last name, appearing to store their contact details in my phone book. Most of them go on to say their full name. Even when they don’t, its OK since that’s more than half of the information.
Recently, when I spotted an ex-colleague at the far-end table of a restaurant, I used linkedin profile search to confirm my guess, before walking up to greet him by his name. It worked.
But he was still struggling to recognize me at all.