Stephan C. Hmar, 12.09.2014
Of the many gifts I haven’t had, recognizing peoplesʼ face is one. I guess I kind of have what people called prosopagnosia or face-blindness. Whenever I happen to be in the crowd, I simply get mixed up with faces, and I cannot recollect any of the faces I come across unless they are exceeding odd or interesting enough to install special interests in me to focus on them.
This has turned out to be a horrible disadvantage. Just a few years back in Guwahati, one fine young man bumped into me with an indicative well-known-close-association-gestures. He smilingly said, Oh God! How are you? Itʼs been a long, long time now. I got a job and got married just two weeks back. Whatʼre you doing here?
I replied to this stranger, Iʼm on my way to Shillong. Iʼm here waiting for the next bus.
He continued, You ought to come and see my family; you ought to spend the night with us and continue your Shillong-business tomorrow. You deserve it.
I was rather deadened by his pushing into my numb territory. I asked, Whoʼre you?, in a blunt direct tone.
His face reddened, not believing my question. He screamed, What? You don’t know me? I was one of your students, and not only that, I was your tutee for two continuous years.
I could not recognize him. I said, I still don’t recognize you! He gnawed his teeth, looked at me in a very offended gesture and said, Good! Carry on!, and walked away.
The more I tried to improve my performance, I seemed to perform worse. Some months back, I went to one distant village to visit a friend. Because of the remoteness and scarcity of the inhabitants, vehicles plying between the nearest town and the village are less. And so I went by bike. The only road available was perfectly empty. I drove on, trying to get absorbed by the calmness and the lushness of the village road under the broad daylight. Along the curve, I saw two men. The other guy talked to me, and I stared at them. And then on second thought, I accelerated my bike suddenly and drove away from them, terrifyingly frightened. I thought they were going to kill me. After 10 minutes, my phone buzzed, It was from my wife.
I asked, ʻYes? What is it?ʼ
She said, What happened to you? Aakarʼs wife called, asking me whether you had gone crazy! Sheʼs really worried about you and asked me to take you to a doctor as soon as possible.
I asked, Why?
You met her husband just a moment ago, on an empty road and you ran away startled.
I replied, in disbelief, Who? Mr. Aakar? It was Mr. Aakar? I…I… thought theyʼre bandits!ʼ
My wife screamed, Could you forget their faces? We met them just one week back and we had a nice mutual introduction with interchanged handshakes.
That incident was an eye-opener. Since then I always kept vigilant to act pretentious and talked like I knew them whenever ʻout-of-the-recognizableʼ people bumped into me without warning. Yeah! Why not? I know you….You have grown taller and fatter than the last time I saw you. I know you…yeah…yeah!
Oh! That’s good news! I have been expecting that out of you.
It is a good practice. One could magically renew the sweetness of the unrecognizable past just by simple acts of acquaintanceship.
But, even that did not solve all the horrible encounter due to this face-blindness. One night, around 8 PM, I came back from work, walking towards home with my laptop bag. One man approached me with a polite behavior. He was tall, slim, and agreeably dressed up.
He asked, in an undeniable accuracy, So late? Howʼre you by the way? Itʼs been a long time I didn’t see you around.
I politely replied, even though I didn’t know him. Busy schedule! What more to say? And how are you?
He said, Iʼm fine. But I have a little problem here. I forget my purse at home, and itʼs already late to go back home and come back for market. So, to cut that short, will you just loan me 500 rupees, I will repay you tomorrow?
I said, Fine! Fine! And loaned him the money. I didn’t recognize the face, but I found, after those horrifying experience I better trust his recognition of me rather than my unfamiliarity of him, to avoid another bullshit happening.
Itʼs been two years now. I never see that face again, nor I get back my 500 rupees.
My wife and I made it a habit of gifting any immediate couples having a newborn child. Six months ago, one of our immediate couple had a new baby boy. We called the couple telling them that we were going to visit them. We set out to the shop, Mom and Me, and purchased a pair of shoes for the baby boy. We gift-wrapped it and very truly and certainly gifted the new boy. Two months later, we visited the couple again and oh, dear me! I could not be sure whether the baby was a boy or a girl. I just risked on the gender (as it was going to be very odd to inquire on the gender of the baby after such a true and certain gift) and asked the father, How is she? Can she sleep well? She is growing more prettier!
Both the couples were silent. My wife was pinching me secretly.
Along the journey back home, my wife scolded me, You always embarrassed me. How could you ever forget that the baby was a boy? Don’t you remember that you were asking the shopkeeper of ʻMom and Meʼ to give you the best shoes for a baby boy?
I told her, Maybe, my mind was drifting elsewhere that time!
She said, Try to remember people. Otherwise, people will think that they are insignificant, that you are proud or indifferent or something.
I said, But you know me the best. All my life has been the opposite of pride or indifference. It is just about living insignificantly with pains, that are constantly eating me alive, and busy taming them all the time!!
She said, But no one knows that. They could wrongly take you to be that way if you always failed to recognize them.
I thought without uttering more words, What the hell am I doing here on Earth?
I came across people whose ability to recognize faces is super-amazing; that they could recognize persons they happened to see in a mall even after three months. It’s a gift, scientists say so. My wife can be registered in the group of mega-recognizers. It is very easy for her to have distinctive face perceptions and to keep track of information about people. Sometimes she is unclear a bit, but, on longer thinking she can always say something close about the personʼs history, which could interest them and that’s the reason why I guess she is such a friendly person and can socialize normally with others.