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Why do some memories last longer?

I’ve been on many more vacations than I can count on my fingers, but I cannot instantly remember all of them. In fact, if you ask me to recollect a certain trip end-to-end, I doubt whether I’d be able to narrate more than ten in complete detail! My slightly controversial inference based on my experience from the past 29 years is this –

Okay, not exactly 29 years! Let’s consider 19 years, and disregard the early 10 years of my life, when I pretty much ate, pooped and slept through varying cycles of time.

Here’s the inference – people tend to remember successful spontaneous events far more lucidly than the meticulously arranged ones.

BREATHE! Don’t react just yet. I know you want to rip ten-feet-wide holes in that argument and shred it to pieces. But let’s do that once I’ve presented my complete thought, however outlandish it may seem.

First off, let me set a baseline by stating a self-fact. I have a decent memory, as validated by a lot of peers and seniors. Hence, the issue is definitely not poor retention! To illustrate that, I’ll give you a summary of all the trips that I’ve made to Goa in the past 10 years.

Not really

But that does beg an interesting question. If I HAD to stack rank some of my most memorable trips to Goa which one would take the top and the bottom spot? Off the top of my head, my best Goa trip was the one from the final year of college – planned in a hurry, with no experience, minimal research and two last-minute additions to our group! But it ended up being one of the most surreal experiences of my life. My worst trip, in fact, was one from the first year of my first job. We planned everything, from the berth in our train to the entire day-by-day itinerary, with a bunch of folks who constantly hung out with each other! That vacation sucked harder than a vampire back from a decade-long keto diet.

And it’s not just the big trips and vacations that I am talking of right? Even a single day of surprise interactions stays fresh in the memory for a long time. Let me cite a recent example (which goes against the idea of long-term retention) which, though insignificant, is a collection of my most cherished hours from the past couple of years.

It all started on a Saturday morning, when Jerry called me at 8.15 am, which is an ungodly hour to wake up any person who is not a senior citizen! He, who was supposed to visit us (my wife and me) later in the day, happened to arrive a few hours early due to a change in flight schedule.

Jerry: Can you pick me up? I am stuck in an Uber sandwich in front of this hospital called Columbia Asia!

Me: Wait what? Uber what now?

Jerry: And what kind of a name is Columbia Asia? It’s like the founder didn’t have a good name so he thought of naming the place after historical events? “Ooh ooh, come to our hospital and discover Asian remedies…. just like Columbus wanted to!”

The guy has 2% on his phone, and chooses to comment on the name of the hospital and not me give me any context on the early wake-up call! I wake up my wife, who is more than eager to pick him up, which means that I’ve got to wait for another 15 minutes for her to dress up! But imagine my surprise when she jumps into her slip-on shoes, ties up hair, and darts out of the house to summon the elevator!

Once we caught up with Jerry, the conversation got steered into the obvious zone – what about breakfast? That’s when out of the blue, Jerry came up with this idea –

Jerry: Let’s go to someplace that’s serve beer.

Rachel and me: WHAT?

Jerry: Well, I haven’t slept all night because of the reschedules, so TECHNICALLY, this will just be a nightcap.

Rachel: Ridiculous.

Me: Let’s do it. I could have a beer!

The moment I uttered those words, I realized that while I had earned myself an eventful morning, I had also blessed my wife with enough ammunition to win at least three domestic wars.

Anyway, the three of us entered The Sarjapur Social, a local pub with the quintessential ‘casual grunge’ decor and menus ‘disguised’ as newspaper rolls! Every waiter in the establishment glanced at us at least once. Why? Because Jerry was wearing harem pants and a solid t-shirt while sporting a long hippy beard. Rachel dressed in pyjamas with enough sleep grease to butter a stack of pancakes. I was sporting a pair of baggy shorts and a polo t-shirt that screamed SOMEONE PUT A CREASE ON ME!

Aside from the fact that we had tremendous fun at the expense of an unsuspecting waiter, the morning itself shaped up to be quite fluid. The weather shifted from breezy to sunny, from sunny to cloudy, from cloudy to overcast, and finally onto the soft patter of an autumn drizzle. We finished our couple of beers and headed to another place with craft brews. Devoid of the afternoon sun, we enjoyed lunch at a rooftop overseeing a magnificent lake, while sipping on passable ales. But the discussions were riveting, and for once, we weren’t thinking about ‘the next thing on our weekend schedule’! We waited for the sun to drown in the lake, and for the moon to rise. That’s when one of us finally fell off the table and it was time to go home, but the heart still wanted to hold on.

Now that seems like a wonderful evening, but I know that you are all concerned about a few important things. What is an UBER SANDWICH? What happened to the waiter? What BEERS did we drink??? Let me clear all of that –

The Uber Sandwich – A rare occurrence where your Uber is trapped between two vehicles of any size because you were part of a small pile-up. In this case, Jerry was the (l)ettuce stuck between a (b)ike and a (t)ravel-van, paying homage to the global classic – BLT

The Waiter’s Dilemma – Rachel wanted to order coffee, minus the South Indian pre-requisite – chicory. Jerry took it upon himself to ensure that all our coffees remain chicory-free. It’s just better if you listen to the actual thing! –

Jerry: Hold on, does your Americano coffee have chicory in it?

Waiter: No sir, it’s a house blend

Jerry: Does not answer my question in any way. Most houses in South India add chicory to their coffee

Waiter: There is no chicory in our coffee sir

Jerry: Where are you from?

Waiter: Jharkhand sir

Jerry: Cool, that’s well north of the Narmada. Just the Americano for me!

I swear that during all my subsequent visits to that place, that waiter has never served me ever again.

That was a quick overview of the day’s events, and I haven’t even gone into the detailed list of beers that we consumed! But the fact that I remember such an insignificant experience so vividly, is proof of the fact that spontaneity does give an experience some edge over the mundane. We tend to cherish that weird but pleasing incident in life that would have otherwise never occurred! Again, when was the last time you had beers for breakfast?

Hence, ever since that day, I deliberately shy away from overplanning anything. And it’s true that some of those half-baked plans equally suck, but the payoff from a successful lack of planning is well worth the risk!

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