Saturday, July 15, 2017

Can we smell or taste in our memory?

These days, I go on a 30 minute bus journey every morning. Initially I tried making some random conversations with the people seated next to me - the weather, the traffic, politics, the dog next door that was addicted to barking - there were a whole lot of topics  in queue to quench my insatiable thirst to educate the world about my opinions and thoughts. "Quite rainy today right?" I would quip and the girl next to me would slowly turn in my direction . The earphones inconspicuously lodged behind her tresses, in her ears, would reveal themselves to me and I would make an embarrassed apology. I get bombarded with glares of "Why are you talking to me? Don't you have your own cellphone? How dare you pull me out of the virtual world?" Hence, I have decided to be content with the company of my mobile device or the characters of a book that I am reading.

Apart from spreading messages on whatsapp that have absolutely no value in improving my life or that of the receiver's I listen to music. I feel that the earphone is definitely a beautiful invention.The poetic beauty of the lyrics enveloped in the permutations of the musical notes can make me ecstatic.  That moment in my life, when I am letting myself get drenched in the notes emanating from the player into my ears is bestowed by the universe on me and belongs only to me! Nothing - work pressure, family responsibilities, the complexities of my own self can touch it.

Strangely, a song that I heard in the morning, would hibernate in my mind after I alight from the bus and suddenly start playing back sometimes in the evening or even the next day. A specific part of the piece where the voice, or the crescendo of notes, or the intensity of the lyrics had managed to strike a chord - subconsciously though, would go on a repetitive mode! This would result in me humming those lines and experiencing a minuscule slice of the pleasure I had gotten while actually listening to the song.

While brooding about this , I observed something. We have five senses - sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch! But can our memory repeat all of them? I think the lanes of memory are restricted to the senses of sight and hearing. Once can only recollect the pleasures or displeasure that we associated with these senses and the situations where we came across them, and not the actual sense itself! Oops, long sentence! Did that make sense?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We call it mind's eye and yes. We often have memories as images and it is very easy to recollect a sight or a scene from the past. The teacher that said an interesting story, a picturesque scene from our holiday, scenes from the past that we relate to intense emotions, be it happiness or sorrow - hanging out with friends, moments with family, moments when we lost loved ones, moments when an accomplishment gently added itself to our cap of feathers , moments when we felt insulted, times when we felt embarrassed , the expressions of various people during these moments - They can come back and play like a movie in our heads. Think of a person that you are very attached to, then think of someone who derives pleasure in adding misery to your life. What came to your mind?

The same thing applies to hearing - We can recollect things people said to us and their voices would play back in our heads. I am sure that as you read this you are trying to do this in your head. Recollect something your boss, or your spouse or your friend said yesterday and yes, you can hear their voice , their words and their intonations too. Think of any song that you like and you can recollect the actual singer's voice be it male or female. Not just that but the entire set of musical and digital instruments that worked alongside in creating the song! The words that were said to admonish us would make their presence felt with absolute ease. I think they reside on the topmost layer of our memory. Words that caused us hurt would stay like a birth mark forever!

What about smell, taste and sight? I think the human brains abilities are a bit diminished with respect to reproducing these senses in our memory. Think of your favorite food. Biriyani, Icecream, Masala dosa! Whatever! Yes you can see sights of it in your mind, you may be filled with memories of when you ate it last or who makes it well. But can you actually feel the taste in your head? Yes your mouth might water but its at the memory or want of the pleasure. Not at actually experiencing it. If we could, how easy would it be to follow healthy diets right? We can keep eating salads and be satisfied with memories of tasting fries and burgers!

The same thing applies to smell too. Can we actually smell something in our memory?Go ahead, try smelling roses or sandalwood. Again we would be filled with memories related to it. For instance my memory rushes to Guruvayur temple and the priests there vigorously rubbing small blocks of sandalwood against rocks to make the paste given as prasadham. The sights and the sounds from the scene come back,but the smell? I would have to wait for my next visit to Guruvayur for that.


16 comments:

  1. Wow! And who would say that someone was suffering from a writer's block. You are back with a bang, Jayashree.
    Yes, it's easier to see and hear things of the past through our mind's eyes and ear. Smell not much but smells can certainly transport you back in time.

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    1. That's true ....smell leads the senses in producing nostalgia

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  2. Ahh. Finally. After a iong gap. Happy to read your latest blog post.

    Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. I am told the part of the brain that is in charge of processing our senses is also responsible for storing emotional memories.

    I am curious. Can you tell us the name of that song?

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    1. Thanks for the support :) ..strangely I am racking my head but unable to recollect the song that refused to leave it three days ago...had to go check my playlist again ..its Bombay jayashri s voice in "oorellam unnai kandu " from tamil movie nanbenda.

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    2. You won't believe this. Just a while ago, I was listening to the song Vaseegaraa.

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  3. This was a good read and a classic example of the part that senses play in our memories.

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    1. Thanks for stepping in Shailaja ...that makes me think again....how will the memory of a visually impaired person be ?

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  4. After so long and so good a post. So many points to think, relate to and reflect. Nicely written Jayashree

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  5. True,it is the sounds and sights which transport us to the past very often.Yes the smells too but you just cannot recall them at will.

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  6. Beautifully written Jam Jaishree

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  7. True. If we could taste and smell, it would be so nice isn't it.. But imagine if suddenly while eating something, our memory throws up the smell of a stinking gutter..hehe.

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  8. Interesting connections jaish. Write more. - kalpana

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  9. This was something that I was trying to convey in my memories series: that we can't experience all the aspects of the events being recalled which can be both a bane and a boon depending upon what we want to recall, viz. happy memories :) Do read the series.

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  10. Hey Jaishsree nice to read your blog after considerable time. Are you back in India these days??? I ask because you wrote that you keep travelling by bus :)

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  11. What an evocative post, Jaishree. Senses play a huge part in nostalgia. Our cravings are evoked by taste, how it made us feel at that time. And yes, I have distinct memories of smells as well. A perfume you associate with a certain person can invoke so many memories.

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