Why the World needs a Pensieve

Something i wrote a long time ago, on slightly the same lines as the link i have already given. although now that i read it, all of it sounds immature and derivative.

Julian Barnes’ recent Booker-winning ” The Sense Of An Ending” is a slim sylph of a book,seemingly too short for the deep,and the deeply affecting theme it wrestles with-the questionable nature of our memories,how we keep coming back to them,embellishing them again and again,revising them,sometimes underlining them with newer,more comforting explanations,but to what purpose? and for whom this entire endeavor?


I haven’t read the book(*now i have) but the question of the  paradox of our urge to revisit our memories,and thereby change them,modify them to suit our immediate,selfish needs and of how we then serve up these “enhanced” interests in our present is one that interests me. those familiar with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle will know what i’m talking about. the mere observation of a phenomenon changes the environment within which the phenomenon is taking place,and hence necessarily changes the phenomenon,mutates it to something else. it might only be a small,minuscule change,a corollary,but the phenomenon,the original sensory experience witnessed by the observer will never remain as it is.

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Throughout our lives,we create memories of different hues,that taste very differently on the palate of our psyche,and in many ways these memories define us. they are our identity. they are who we are. such memories might be tangible-old photographs,scraps of writing from diaries, letters,even old songs that held some meaning in our life at one point of time. as we march on forward,these get hidden,and sometimes dumped,on shelves,inside almirahs,on the top of dressing tables,between mounds of musty,yellowing newspapers,static, unchanging,bloodless. these memories in today’s world somehow serve only a finite purpose-we bring them out from their dusty confines, cough as the soot,silverfish,and the cobwebs cling on to our clothes,our eyelashes,our hair. we share them with friends,sometimes we keep them for ourselves and they provide a few moments of mirth-and youthful remembrance-“things were different back then”,” we were such kids,””look at your hair!” and such banalities are traded.a tear might be shed,and then solid reminders of our personal histories,warts and all, would be kept gently back,to be dipped into again,sometime in the future,like that set of bone-china you bring out only on special occasions,like that untouched copy of Ulysses that lies forgotten on your reading table,that you take up only to remind yourself,and others that it is a “great” book,although you have no idea why. they remind us of what was, and then strangely,they “remind” us of what could have been. our own alternative futures,locked away somewhere,unopened. our own parallel universes.

and yet,one feels,the whole routine of reaching “back to the past” smacks of hypocrisy. Alice Munro writes ” memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories. and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories”. we are,by nature,a self-serving and perpetually nervous species,uncomfortable in our skin, and in the layers of personalities,ideas,opinions,and impressions that the past super-imposes on us. we live,clichedly speaking,in a sea of regrets. and so,we constantly look at creating new memories. our lives and the corresponding memories attached to them,have slowly become instantaneous,modified at the click of a mouse,and by the pattering of fingers on a keyboard. we reminisce,not for ourselves,but for others. we cherish,and hold on to nothing-our love,our anger,our hurt,our joy…all of this is transitory,available for anyone to to click on,see for a while,and then move on. turn the page.

Yes,we return to our memories,but only to modify them. we do not like who we were, and consequently we dislike who we are. and like some new-age Sisyphus endlessly rolling a stone up a hill, we constantly keep trying to “reinvent” ourselves. our memories become fluid,unclear,degrade in value. we Photoshop our obese past selves to appear more svelte,we delete all our past dalliances,and seek newer vistas of online romance,we renege on friendships without qualm or remorse,and we keep scratching on the slate of our memories with the chalk of modern expediency until we are left with nothing but a jumbled-up mess of ourselves. it is neither a kaleidoscope,nor a vision conjured up by Dali, but merely the un-co-ordinated hammering away of a confused sculptor on his work,trying to force it to fit into the confines of  earthly space and human imagination.


There is an ancient Greek riddle, once asked by Plutarch,called the Ship of Theseus,in which it is asked “if one were to replace all the decaying planks of wood on the ship,one by one, until the entire ship were fitted with new planks of wood,would it still be the Ship of Theseus?”. would it acquire the same space in our memory as the old ship? would it be filled with the same memories, experiences,would it have the same identity as the fabled ship of Theseus? if it didn’t,was it of any worth, this whole endeavor to replace the old,plank by plank, with something new,which,though ostensibly better,is definitely not the same? why do you think a lot of us do not like remixes and cover versions of old classics and somehow stick to the original?

Our memories are our own,intimate,personal masterpieces. of all the things we call our own,our memories,the unedited,unvarnished,unembellished,unchanged record of our lives,stored up in our heads,shared with our friends,codified in our diaries,captured in fading photographs are the most important. we might forget them with the vagaries of age,and the strain on our minds,but let us not try to replace all the decaying planks of our past,whether they be discomforting,laughable or embarrassing,with newer planks of recreated scenes,images and emotions. it simply won’t be the same.


P.S: i haven’t written a word about what the title of this bit of writing refers to.

For those who believe,no explanation is necessary,for those who don’t,none shall suffice.


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