Unforgotten Memories by Catherine Jaishankar

Why do we forget? There is no proven scientific reason for why we forget.1 Our brain has the ability to store the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes 2 of digital memory whereas my M1 Mac has only 250 GB. Why is our brain designed to delete memories when it has so much space? The ability to recall a memory is often associated with how well it’s stored and it always differs from one person to another. My childhood memories are compartmentalized in two ways. First, is according to the two different schools I studied in, St. Joseph’s Convent till my fifth standard and Montfort School till my tenth standard. Second, is my house. Pre-renovation and post. Before narrating any of my leftover childhood memories, I have to do some mental calculations to figure out the exact age I was in by identifying how I looked (I had different physical phases in different schools) and the setting. If the parking space at my home was spacious and bright, if the staircase was part of the veranda, if the backyard still existed, then the memory is most likely to be pre-renovation. Once the memory is successfully identified, then my brain starts counting the age. I know I was five in my first standard. That being my focal point I work my age to the memory. This is the mental prep that I have to do before beginning to narrate a memory as ‘I was five/seven/eight.’

Scientists have a fancy term called ‘transience’. ‘Transience refers to the general deterioration of a specific memory over time’.3 They say that old memories, ‘without use, or with addition of new memories, can decay’.4 ‘Decay’ as in like dead corpses decaying and becoming one with the ground?  Such an odd word to use. Few memories are lingering in the halls of my brain’s purgatory, desperately clinging for their lives.

1. Pipe Snake Memory:

I can’t remember how I looked and the picture of my house is smudged. So, for the sake of the essay to keep going, let’s just say I was in my fourth standard and my house was under renovation, neither pre nor post. I must be eight, then.

A huge white/cream snake. For specificity purposes, I googled them, and the closest reference is called the Californian Mountain Snake. That, but only cream-white in colour. I hate anything that crawls. Just googling them made me spit my late-night coffee on my white t-shirt. This snake is there outside my house gate. Basking in the monsoon sun, creeping everyone out. I recall seeing the snake throughout the memory, so I must’ve been outside my house on the road. Daddy and a few of my neighbourhood men are trying to chase? /kill? /burn? /capture? It’s a huge snake. For any of you who haven’t googled it yet, picture it as a day-old puppy version of Anaconda. I’m pretty sure the men were doing something to the snake. Seems so stupid, now that I’ve put it in words. What the hell were they doing poking a snake that could potentially swallow them? Not to insult the effort my brain took to remember the memory all these years, it’s conjuring a remedy for the stupidity. The remedy being, the blue plastic barrel that Ma uses to store her gardening tools. Let’s just believe, for the sake of my sanity’s dignity that this is what happened: A cream-white baby Anaconda, at my gate, the men trying to capture it in the barrel. They must’ve planned to take it to the woods or hand it over to the animal control? Was the animal control informed? Not that I can recall. Let’s say Daddy called them and they were on their way.

Ma in her red and black polka-dotted saree, Dorothy, my sister, her rabbit teeth clattering and her fat black ponytail swinging and another woman whom I’m assuming to be the maid. I can’t see this woman’s face but I’m sure she was there. They were standing on the other side of the gate, inside the house. Of course, they were all worried and frantic and pale. Ma yells at Daddy, “Be careful! Leave the bloody snake alone!” Daddy yells back, “Don’t yell at me! You’re going to make the snake mad!” Under normal circumstances, the non-family members of the memory would’ve expected the yelling to turn into a fight just so they’d have a juicy gossip when they meet each other at the grocery shop or during their evening tea-time conversation. But this ain’t a normal situation. Everybody’s focused on the snake. Focused on getting the snake into the barrel my mind conjured. At some point, either Ma or Daddy must’ve yelled at me, “Get inside the house!” and I would’ve yelled back, “How? Should I hop over the snake?”. My sister might’ve pointed out, “There’s a snake blocking the path, Ma.” As if we didn’t realise that, thank you for your utter uselessness, Dorothy!

Truth be said, it must’ve been the other way around. Dorothy never gets told off for uselessness or anything. She’s the golden pumpkin of a firstborn. I’m always Dorothy’s sister, the silent, introverted second-born. But then the context is wrong. Why would she be yelled at? She’s safe inside the house. She must’ve spoken my words for me like she always does. Does that make sense? Let’s assume it does.

The plot twist of the memory is that the snake makes a decision. There’s a long pipe attached to one of the compound walls of my house, like a gas or oil line pipe. We might be asked to remove it when the empty plot next to my house gets occupied. Ma’s hoping to negotiate with the future owners, but we both know her negotiation almost always turns into an argument. Cheers with that, Ma! Alright, let’s not get side-tracked! The snake, it decided to run. Not into the barrel like we all expected the dumb snake to take the bait, but into this pipe. In my memory, this snake fits perfectly into the pipe. Like the whipping cream in a piping bag. Squished and squashed, filling the pipe with the entirety of its cream-white body.

We were shocked at how the snake fooled us. ‘How are we going to use the outlet pipe? It’s blocked it’, being Ma’s concern. ‘What if it pops back when we dump rubbish?’, being the neighbourhood’s concern. ‘Where’s the fucking animal control?’, being my brain’s concern, now. But that’s it. That’s the end of my memory. I don’t remember what happened to the snake after that. It must be dead, if it had been there the whole time.

I recall asking Ma and Dorothy about this a few years ago, ‘No, nothing like that happened. There was no snake, let alone a cream-white one.’ How could the people in your memory not share that memory? How daft!

2. The Monkey Memory:

I once remembered it vividly. It’s, unfortunately, dissipating like the epic climax scene from Avengers: Infinity War when Thanos snaps half the world to dust. I try to think of this memory at least once every couple of years and I see parts of the background image or the characters’ voices and most importantly, my emotions in the memory fade away, every time. My brain struggles to point out the details. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day people talked to me about this memory and I’d mean the words I’ll say in reply, “Really? I think I forgot all about it.” That’d be a shame because, unlike other memories, I’m the main character of this one. Main character, but not in a good way. Still the perfect dramatic arc a character could ask for.

This was definitely pre-renovation, so I must’ve been in my third or fourth standard which makes me eight or nine years old. And it was a church trip! Back when my church was a small group—it’s super small, currently—we used to go on one-day church trips, once a year, I think. I don’t know if we actually went on these trips every year but I recall two of them. The second one was boring and that’s all to it. The first one was when we went to Kutralam Waterfalls or one of the many waterfalls in the South Indian forests. I think it’s Kutralam. Everyone I know in India has been there at least once. After showering in the waterfalls, a bunch of us were walking back to the bus and I saw a cute little monkey. A little fact before we continue. The governments, not just in India but all over the world, have this tendency to install statues of animals in places of interest. Is that meant to be decorative? In my experience, it most definitely has not served that purpose. My friend, Helena and I, went to Morecambe and she almost yelled at a statue of a seagull in front of Morrison’s. They looked very realistic, I give you that, they all do.

Back to my memory. I think you should’ve figured out the rest of the memory by now. For the benefit of the group of readers who didn’t I will continue to narrate it. You make me exist. This monkey is sitting on a rock. Me, thinking it’s one of those tacky statues along with my obsession over animals, try to pet the monkey. It’s karma, the time I decide to be civilised is the time life decides to bite me in the arse. The monkey sees me as a potential threat. He—I don’t know if it was a male or a female monkey, but let’s just say he—scratches me in my left ankle, or was it my right? He scratches one of my ankles and runs away. I can’t remember what happened next. Daddy must’ve carried me to the bus, I assume there was a first-aid box in the bus or one of us must’ve brought it. Definitely, not my family, preparing for the storm ahead has never been my family. We always act and reflect on it later which always ends up with a lot of blaming and yelling and minimal crying. The pastor must’ve had it, I believe. Ma would’ve tried to burn a hole through my forehead with her stare, waiting for everyone to leave or to get home so that she could properly yell at me. She refrains from yelling at me in front of others, she’s considerable like that. After getting home, I must’ve been taken to the doctor. The doctor must’ve bandaged my ankle. Daddy must’ve insisted on a TT injection even if the doctor said it wasn’t necessary. The weight of the decision must’ve been on me in the end. I would’ve nodded to the injection. The only circumstance a nine-year-old bites the bullet and nods for an injection is when something scarier is bound to happen if she didn’t do that. In this case, it must be me “acting like a bloody know-it-all,”, to put it in Ma’s words.

There’s no scar on either of my ankles and the pain I’m supposed to remember, I simply don’t. I don’t remember crying or any emotion with this memory. If Dorothy told me, “There was no monkey. You weren’t scratched or anything. We made it all up as an elaborate ruse. Yes, all of us, Ma and Daddy, included.”, I’d believe her in a heartbeat. I’d be heartbroken. Who wouldn’t be? When you find out that the one memory from your childhood that fits all the boxes to share a memory in a public gathering—funny, yes, decent, yes, adventurous, yes—never happened at all.

3. Tree Snake Memory:

While I was putting The Monkey Memory in words, an excerpt of the “Tree Snake Memory” kept attaching itself to this one. I can’t seem to recall how I looked cause all I can see are my hands. So, let’s just say for me to prove to you that I’m an assertive writer that I was ten? Right, ten-year-old bony, brown fingers are pointing to a tree. To Ma? Was it Ma or Joyce aunty from church? Let’s say, both, the more the merrier. What made me point to the tree in the first place is because of a snake. The bark of this tree between two branches has a little hole and another thick branch started growing out of it but for some reason decided to stop mid-growth. And therefore, it looks like a snake’s head peeping out of the hole. If snakes were like crows or lions and they came in just one colour, I wouldn’t be writing this essay on a Thursday afternoon while waiting for the timer on my phone to go ding so that I can check on my pasta in the kitchen. Unfortunately, for you and me, snakes come in all colours and sizes. None of ‘em friendly, all of ‘em disgusting.

I point at this bark, which I didn’t know then, and say, “Does that look like a snake to you?” Ma, by now fed up with my obsession with animals, must’ve opened her mouth to say something to shut me up, probably something like a stern, “No, it doesn’t.” But, let’s not forget that Joyce aunty was also there. I don’t know how she is with Ruth, her daughter, but you can’t say no to someone else’s daughter. So, she said, “Oh God, yes! That looks like a snake. Careful, move away from the tree.” Joyce aunty has a naturally high-pitched voice and she tends to take the exclamation in her dialogues very seriously. She always backs them up with physical actions. It is very likely that when the first part of the dialogue came out of her high-pitched voice her hands automatically went to her chest. Robby uncle, her husband, who may/may not have heard the words but most definitely saw her eyes widen and her hands cling to her chest must’ve rushed to her. Seeing Robby uncle leave the much-discussed men’s conversation on politics abruptly, Christopher uncle, another member of our tight-knit church and Daddy followed his steps. Ma torn apart between her hate towards me and Joyce aunty for making a huge something out of nothing might’ve narrated the whole story behind Joyce aunty’s high-pitched squeal. While all of us are assessing the peeping snake aka the undergrown branch, Philip uncle, our keyboardist and the tallest member of our church pops out of nowhere with full knowledge of what’s happening and touches the branch. Mine and Joyce aunty’s, “Ah!!” was very quickly taken over by everyone’s “Oh,” followed by a mild laugh by everyone. Except Ma.

4. The Black Snake Memory:

This has been itching my brain to take its rightful place on the page. It’s because two of the three previous memories involve snakes and this once has been patiently waiting outside the AA meeting room, hoping the meeting conductor won’t ignore her deliberate coughs and throat clearing. I wasn’t planning on inviting her into the essay but let’s reward her patience, eh?

Let’s say I was seven. There’s a small veranda in my house, in between my house door and the main gate. Don’t struggle too much to picture it in your head, just put it anywhere that faces the main gate. This triangular veranda, RIP, was taken away during the renovation. It now exists only in our heads. Dorothy and I use this veranda to place our heavy backpacks while waiting for the auto-rickshaw that takes us to school from home and back again. On one mundane day, there was a black snake when I bent down to put my bag. I’m not going to google the snake in fear I might throw up my pasta. Just imagine a black snake the length of an average male human and thick as the calf muscles of Chris Hemsworth.

I don’t know why but it’s from the many Indian movies I’ve watched that when you encounter a snake you should never scream, “Snake!” Is it true? Is it because it might offend the snake? How else are we supposed to let others know that there’s a poisonous black snake on the veranda? With all these questions going on in my head at the time, I yelled, “Ma, snake!!!” while running into the house. The snake was least bothered by my yelling or my heavy stomping into the house. It was still there when my Ma gathered our tenant lady from upstairs and the pitchfork from the blue barrel to see what the fuss is all about. Daddy was on a work trip. Dorothy? I forgot all about her. She was there too. She must’ve been. Anyways, Ma and the tenant lady did something to the snake. I can’t remember what they did. They didn’t kill it, that’s for sure. They must’ve carried it in the pitchfork, put it in a plastic bag and let it go in the woods. Yeah, they must’ve done that.

I remember thinking Ma wouldn’t let me go to school worried that I might be traumatised because of the snake. Instead, she said, “Why are you still here? The auto’s waiting. Aren’t you late for school?”

I hate bloody snakes!

This whole essay is an example of ‘Cue-Dependent Forgetting’.5 You hear a particular word or meet a certain person and the memory comes rushing back to you. All my brain needed was a snake and it formed its own path, forcing you and me to walk through its decaying forest. What makes memories dissolve from our heads? Like a painting that gets eaten away by dust over time. Like words that cease to exist simply because they’re not spoken anymore. When does our brain stop maintenance on certain memories? “There’s no point in polishing that rack, there’s no use in dusting and waxing that painting.” Is it because new memories get on board every day pushing out the lifelong passengers of the train, to make space? I wonder how many such memories we’ve forgotten. When we look at something or hear something, do we fail to remember a memory we once cherished? Do the characters from the memory dance and scream around us in the invisible air trying to grab our attention, trying to make us remember them? Even the ones we remember, is it 100% true? Were you really wearing that yellow dress on the spring day picnic or did you want to wear it but couldn’t find it for some reason? Did you really have the tattoo when you met her or wished so badly you did that your brain took pity on you? Memories are meant to be fallible, flawed, imperfect and messy mirroring our life. And just because we don’t remember a memory, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Right now, watching the cherry blossoms in the Skate park as the sun goes down for the day and the lad in the dark-blue dyed hair and cargo trousers practise his skill, know that it’s supposed to remind you of something.

P.S: Photographs, in any form, do not exist for the sake of this essay.

Catherine Jaishankar is a 24-year old Indian writer who loves to dabble with the theories of creation, life and the world beyond. She graduated from Lancaster University with a MA in Creative Writing. She prefers to read adult fantasy, psychological thrillers and personal essays most of the time. She is working on an adult fantasy thriller which she hopes will leave the safe nest of her iCloud, someday. Until then, she brags about her recently published article The Dictionary of Cinema Portmanteau with the Lune Journal and her short story, He’s Dead, which was published as part of the MA Anthology 2022.

Instagram: @catherinejaishankar

Twitter: @Cath_Jaishankar

Website: catherinejaishankar.weebly.com


  1. Boundless. [n.d.]. “The Process of Forgetting,” Lumenlearning.Com<https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/the-process-of-forgetting/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2022]
  2. [N.d.]. Cnsnevada.Com <https://www.cnsnevada.com/what-is-the-memory-capacity-of-a-human-brain/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2022]
  3. Boundless. [n.d.]. “The Process of Forgetting,” Lumenlearning.Com<https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/the-process-of-forgetting/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2022]
  4. Ibid.
  5. Boundless. [n.d.]. “The Process of Forgetting,” Lumenlearning.Com<https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/the-process-of-forgetting/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2022]