Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 12/28/02 9:25 AM

Humour: Confusion confounded


Confusion confounded

SHEILA KUMAR lets you take a glimpse into her convoluted mental process.

Like Martin Luther King, I, too, have a dream.

My dream is not a lofty one; it is to walk into a soiree crowded with the finest minds around. And then, to partake of discourse on matters both profound and entertaining; on Europe’s neo-decadence, the boons and banes of GM radish, the Arakkal effect on the Malabar mind, and suchlike.

And at the end of the party, I want to go home smiling dulcetly at the whispers of, “She’s brilliant” wafting in my wake.

This remains a dream, alas. Because the sad truth is, I have a mind like a sieve.

Rather, like a sponge cake with the bottom rudely cut out. It takes in virtually anything and everything but retains nothing. What it retains,  it invariably confuses with some other smidgen of stored information.

On any given day, recollecting around mid-day what I had for breakfast is a tough matter, leave aside pertinent points put by the honourable Minister last week on the disinvestment policy, despite my having read it through diligently.

I have received a fairly decent education, I am well informed, I have a fairly quick grasp of things. I read voraciously, I am a movie junkie, and I have travelled a bit. While not aspiring to the heights of your average Nobel Laureate, I have no wish to come off sounding like a cretin…which all too often,
I suspect I do.

I yearn to talk of how silk is bred from the silkworm, about the cravats of the Regency period, of the difference between the warp and weft in a Chanderi sari.

I wish to expound on Sartre’s theory of alienation, of Picasso’s worldview, of Ara’s ‘bindu’. These are things I know I know…but have forgotten.

And of course, I might well confuse Ara’s work with Manjit Bawa’s, confuse Picasso with Dali or credit an Ayn Rand theory to Sartre….horrors!

So I keep quiet, and this silence is immediately mistaken for a humble acquiescence to a higher knowledge. Which is how I get to hear some utter embroidering of or tampering with facts. I keep silent then too, because I know I will start to refute these statements and suddenly my mind will go blank.

So, I keep quiet while staring awestruck at a cathedral in France. One tower is starkly Gothic, the other intricately Renaissance. Fragments of pertinent knowledge floats through my mind, bits on the austerity and penitence demanded of the monks who lived here, on how the peasantry was made to chip in with the building of sacred institutions, on the differences between a cathedral and a church.

The thing is, these snippets of information float right out my ken before I can take hold of any one of them. And so, I stand there even as a companion takes over explanations,freely filling in with many gross untruths… I know them to be untruths but with my mind, how can I prove it?

I keep quiet on another patronizing moment. An acquaintance, one who participates in dressage competitions, is showing me around her stable, not trying too hard not to talk down while imparting basic info.

And there it is, bits of info on the Lipizzaner stallions, of the origins of dressage, all floating into and out of my mind; I’d read all about it somewhere. I keep a prudent silence of course, lest something about circus horses slips from my mouth inadvertently; I’d rather be thought of as ignorant than confused.

Back home in Bangalore, there’s many a time I bring home a book I have always wanted to read from Eloor, only to find my sister exasperatedly telling me I’d read and raved about this very book a few months ago.

At parties I’d begin a witty anecdote only to find I’d forgotten the punchline. When the talk turns to Moravia I’d like to offer my opinion but how can I be sure I won’t talk of Maupassant’s works instead?

Once I expounded on Schumacher’s prowess for a while then ended sorrowfully ruing his death to horrified listeners…I’d confused the Formula One hero with his predecessor, Ayrton Senna.

Another time, I listened to the opening bars of a Clapton number and sighing sentimentally, said, “Aah, the songs of my childhood”. The song was a relatively new Eric Clapton song, “Tears in heaven” and if that had been a childhood song, it made me all of 12 years old! I had a tough time living that one down, I tell you.

I do it all the time: I confuse Sarayu Doshi with Saryu Ahuja. I make glowing mention of Ritu Beri’s soufflés when I mean Ritu Dalmia. I’m always on the verge of a quote, a saying, a joke,  except it never makes it past my craw.

Worse, I start out on a well-known Shakespearean quote and find I’m getting it
all wrong. And then people shake their heads sadly and murmur, “Nice girl but a bit pretentious, what?” That then is my cross.

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 28 Dec 2002.


Sheila Kumar • December 28, 2002

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