Memory and choice

by menonmyth

There are times when I grapple to find a specific memory, buried deep down within the corridors where memories are kept, I suppose, locked in perfect boxes, labelled, and stacked up on special racks, dated by years or maybe even decades. This doesn’t happen too often, at least not on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is a musical piece you hear that triggers this sort of grappling. It needn’t always be a musical piece, it could be a conversation, a random thought, the smell of cumin being fried, mustard seeds crackling, the voice of an old friend, or a tattered Pollock’s print tucked away in a trunk under the bed. This then hurtles you back, phantasmagorically, into a realm of magical realism. Here, things are exactly the same as it was in your past memory. You can recreate the visuals to the minutest details. The table at the corner of the room, the lamp hanging above the tapestry, the cat rolled over his back in a happy baby pose, your angered friend pacing about the room, earnest and half mindful of her words. There is nothing to stop the memories rolling by, say as if the lock on one of those sealed boxes accidentally melted away. We have our favorite ones, not so favorite ones, and the ones we refuse to believe happened. One of my earliest memories, from my childhood, is eating chocolate pudding. I used to get back home from the nursery, I think I was 3, and Amma would give me this home made pudding. I can relive that memory, taste the pudding in my mouth, recollect the day vividly, the frock I was wearing, the details of the dining room, the color of Amma’s sari. Then there are those not so favorite culinary memories, those from Hyderabad hostel days, especially the days when we used to be served “kundru sabji”. We used to totter down to the mess hall and run straight back out to the Chinese fast food place next to campus, hog on some fried rice, chilli chicken and then, head to Sagar bhaiyya’s store for some ice cream. Then, there are the one’s that must not be named, little scandalous, little horrific, a lot of embarrassment. Those will forever remain locked, well hopefully.

Every time I dig down a memory, I can’t help feel those memories are a result of a choice I made at a point in time in my past life. So, if I had continued to do my PhD in India, I wouldn’t have any memories whatsoever of life in LA. This world simply ceases to exist. There are many intervals in time where I remember making a conscious decision to let go of something, or to follow a particular windy path. These choices make us who we are today. It was Amma’s choice to make me chocolate pudding and not crème brûlée. It was my choice to hate kundru in the hostel mess and prefer Chinese instead. I can only wonder what alternate consequences, a reverse choice could have had. Maybe I could have chosen not to eat the chocolate pudding, or chosen to suck up and eat the kundru in the mess. Would these have altered my life significantly? Chaos theory says yes, stemming from a belief that nonlinear applications of mathematical systems gives rise to a whole which may be more or less than the sum of its parts. Thus, a chaotic system is totally unpredictable in its behavior. There are choices we need to make which seem trivial, such as choosing chocolate pudding, yet there are bigger choices we need to make, for example. my decision to leave 2 years of research work in India to pursue another 5+ years of doctoral work in LA. Life was uncertain at that point, who knew what could happen. I could make this big move to LA, absolutely hate living in this city, have a fall out with my adviser and be back to square one. Every choice is risky, has an uncertainty factor associated with it and the beauty of the unseen, the unknown, is so beckoning that it tempts you to make the choice, however, difficult it is. At that point in time when you choose a particular path, remember, there is no right or wrong, since the consequences of your actions will not reveal itself till years later, and you can only look back and wonder if you did make the right decision or choice.

This brings me to my discussion in an earlier post on possible worlds. By picking a particular route to action are you necessarily pushing away access to other possible worlds? Or, do they continue to exist parallelly, inhabiting different orbits and circling and just being. Maybe we have access to them all, because we do have the free will to alter our choice at any given time. Maybe they exist only as a figment of our imagination, you can see these alternate worlds but have no access to them because of the choice you made. And, maybe death is just one such alternate possible world, chosen by your fervor and your denial.  As Murakami says, memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.