Sometimes the most simple of thing claims our attention and we discover how we can rearrange a shelf in our head in a more meaningful order. It might not be perfect and perpetual but provides a dramatic renovation to the existing order. When we rearrange these shelves of our memory, we redefine the narrative we tell ourselves and others. A narrative that is easy to remember is like mnemonics, they are intuitive to recall and helps us connect to facts effortlessly. Like the mnemonic, KISS – Keep it simple silly, simplicity and truth are essential to expand our bandwidths and to focus on important and essential matters without having to constantly redo our shelves.
Mark Twain is credited for this adage, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” I have already mentioned my apprehensions about the apt use of this word earlier, but I believe there is a truth in this statement. If we speak what we really believe is the truth, we are not claiming that we know the answers but on the contrary, we furnish our understandings and our ignorance on the matter. If we lived in an ideal world where media we consume, people we interact, and literature we engage with are undeniably real then our truth would be the universal truth. But, I think we can agree that deceit and lies fuels our conversation–socially and virtually. This friction between idealism and realism isn’t new, it is merely amplified by the explosion of population and polarisation of media. This makes it a noble quest to discover one’s own true voice. This voice will become the bridge between the idealism and the realism while we attempt to create an index to accommodate all our perceptions that lie scattered and unorganized on the shelves of experiences.
Let me tell you a personal story. Once upon a time, I was a kid. It may seem too far back because then the centuries were still in their teens. It was the 1990s and it was usual for me to visit my ancestral home for every festival, every vacation, and holidays from school. We rode there on a bike with me sitting in front of my dad over the fuel tank, holding the handle, sometimes a little too tightly, while we drove for forty kilometres, with my mom behind and my younger three-year-old sister on her lap. I remember it was when the cities found it fancy to have a square with the big clock towers. It was before anyone I knew had a cell phone and everyone had synced time. It was when people had their wrist-watches and wall-clocks fashionably ahead of time. I didn’t know what it achieved other than making us better at on-the-fly subtraction and comforting house guests by proclaiming, like time lords, ‘You still got 20 minutes,’ when they surprisingly exclaim after looking at the clock, ‘Oh! we are getting late.’
It was an unspoken doctrine that you can only move around as many houses on either side of your chaperone as your current age. Back then, I could count my age on my fingers. Luckily, our house was in the middle of our street and that gave me almost the entire street to wander. I would be excited to join anyone, my cousin, my uncles, who were allowed to go and could take me to other streets because there is only so much to see and explore in one street.
At one corner of the street, there lived an old man, who usually sat on his folding chair outside his gate. I don’t remember when or who told me that his name was Kinna Baba. I also don’t remember who told me that if a kid crosses his house alone he kidnaps them. This scared me and I maintained at least two house distance from his home while playing on the street. Also when he is sitting outside, I would always check to see if he intends to come into the street and hide whenever he gets up from his chair. He almost never did. I would tell other kids on the street about him and they will also tell me stories they heard about him. I never crossed his house alone until I was dared once to buy chips from a shop that was opposite to his house.
Even when his house was locked, even after I grew up, I always crossed the street from the other side of his home. I never met him, never greeted him, never looked long at him directly, but was always alert to his presence. It terrified me as a kid whenever someone crossed his house. I would go to the roof and see people crossing and would secretly hope to catch him in the act of putting a blanket on a kid and carrying him away so I could call the adults and tell them to go investigate.
I don’t know what kind of man he was. But, this character that was built about him, this narrative of him being an abductor shaped my experience and movement at my ancestral home. Now, when I think about the scenario, I understand how it could have been a comfortable lie to keep the kids away from the busy street corners without constant oversight. Even though this narrative isn’t sound for me anymore since two decades have passed and now I can cross oceans and travel to countries on the other side of the planet, but it still was the biggest prank that ‘the adults’ pulled on me. It is my truth that I once believed that Kinna Baba was a child abductor.
I wonder how many such comfortable lies we tell culturally, religiously, and personally to keep ourselves in check, when we are not ready to face the unknown effects of exposing the truth or out of fear that something plausibly terrible might happen. As Plato claimed in The Republic, do we really need ‘noble lies’ to maintain social harmony?
I wonder… Do you?