I spent a few days with my aunt last week and used this time to learn as much family history as possible from her - the geneology, eccentricities, family traditions as well as all the juicy gossip and scandalous details which were kept from us as children and young adults. She had her fun by recounting some of my childhood gaffes and embarassing moments. It was disappointing how little I remembered of my childhood. Although childhood amnesia is commonly associated with early childhood, most people are able to trace their earliest memory to the time they were 2 1/2 or 3 years old. Granted that my memory in its current condition doesn't retain details of what I had for lunch yesterday but with a little jogging, I can usually remember the broad outline of pages from past chapters in my life. But here I was listening to her as if she was narrating a fictional story to me and then she turns around and tells me that I was the author and hero of the story. I wish my mother had a mom blog - or may be not considering some of the things I allegedly said/ did as a child.

So I spent all morning trying to chronologise my memories and to get to my earliest memory. It was tough to separate real experiences from second-hand memories. This usually happens when you have heard others recount events from early childhood even though you yourself have no memories of these. Thus, for example, I now know things I am supposed to have said when my sister was born even though I was just 2 at that time thanks to other adults recounting the same to me. And then there are photo album memories. One has seen photos of what one did as a baby and imagines one remembers the experience.

My earliest memory is of death - that of my paternal grandfather. I was three years and a few months old.I remember my father holding a paper( telegram) with a serious look, and flash images of a sudden flurry of activity ,quickly packing and leaving for the station. I remember where and how his body was kept and my aunts sitting around the body crying. I remember following the funeral procession up to the end of the road - women and girls could not go beyond that. As we walked back to the house, I remember turning to look at the body and an aunt who was crying asked me not to. And then, Nothing. No more recollection of anything that happened then.

Strange how I seem to have retained such a vivid memory of this - perhaps this was the first moment of intense emotion that I experienced around me and hence the impact. I did not know what death was, I do not remember crying for my grandfather or feeling sad. Perhaps my mind recognised it as something important and captured the images and stored them away to be processed at a later date. Too bad that it is the only memory I have of my thatha.

What is your earliest memory? How old were you then?
24 Responses
  1. Altoid Says:

    Hm, a very interesting post Usha.

    I'll have to say my earliest memories are of staying in our ancestral home in B'gudi with my grandparents and great-gmom. One incident I clearly remember, and I might have been 4 or 5 at that time, my school finished sometime in the afternoon, mom had finished force-feeding me and while I was playing with ggmom(who was my first and best playmate, also bedridden cos of a fracture) I dozed off right next to her. I remember clearly waking up after a couple of hours and Amma carting me off for my glass of milk. Ggmom says "she dozed off here in my bed, and I just let her be".

    *Sob*...those were the days, getting spoilt by a herd of grandparents :).

  2. Savani Says:

    what a post Usha.. my earliest memory is from kindergarten.. must have been 3. I was all dressed up in a silk parkar-pola (the traditional skirt and choli) and was in charge of ditributing flowers at the school for sankranti haldi-kumkum. Dang. I can still fell the excitement.. wish I could be that excited at something these days!

  3. Dhanya Says:

    wow that was a nice post. Most of my earliest memories is associated with my mom's ancestral home where I spend the early years in my life.. I vividly remember the time there - the typical village life that revolves round agriculture, the farm animals which you treat more like a member of ur family , then the liveliness during the paddy-harvest period, my hard working grandparents,.. I also remember waiting for my cousins to return from school and crying that I should also be sent to school. Finally they sent me to some anganwadi near by.. I was just 2 then :) And I also remember the death of my grandfather.. My feeling where more or less like what you have written..I was 3 that time..

  4. Anonymous Says:

    My earliest memory is when I was in my first class (kindergarten level) and I put my hand on the butt of a girl sitting next to me. Now, if I did that today, I would probably qualify to be an MP or something, but on that day, I did it, and it was curiosity. that's all. But then, old habits die hard, and the curious cat lives nine lives before it gets killed!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    ohh my, I got all my childhood memories and I am trying to do what yu said.. LOL differentiating b/w what i really rememebr and what i think i rememeber.. I think i have this same problem :(
    ahh well, I think I remember my grandma's death too.. though i think i remember sleeping in the school nun's house in WHEN I WAS IN nURSERY/ kg( NOW HW OLD WAS I THEN?), then i remember eating heir food too.( of milk and bread)

    now i have to do a bit moer pondering and MAY be i can remember smething else...but it is hard work.

    a real nice post really!!

  6. Sumana Says:

    A touching post Usha. My paternal grand parents and maternal grand dad left long before i was born. My maternal grandmom was recent and ofcourse i remember everythign about her. I remember when i was in kindergarden, i used to take cream biscuits to school and few of our friends would exchange dresses amongst ourselves.

  7. Preethi Says:

    Lovely post.. My earliest memory is from Kindergarden.. I think I must have been 4 (UKG) .. I had bumped my head falling off the jungle gym.. and was made to rest with the younger (LKG) kids when they had their afternoon nap.. I think I was mortified!!! :P

  8. rajk Says:

    I've been thinking about what my earliest memories for a while now..Thanks for bringing this up.
    I must've been around three years old. We lived next door to a gentleman who used to teach Hindi in our school. One day we were passing by his house and he heard me talking to my mom and saying "Tum" while addressing her. He came out and told me since she was my mom I should respect her and say "Aap" and not "Tum". Somehow, it hit home and from then on it was "Aap" for mom, even though my elder brother stuck with "tum" when talking to her.

  9. Indian in NZ Says:

    Will think about the earliest one and come back - Right now so many of them are flashing in front of my eyes.

  10. Hip Grandma Says:

    My earliest memory is of my maama's wedding when I was about
    5 1/2 years old.I remember that there was a lot of sand in an open space in front of my maami's house and we kids played there to our heart's content.I remember sitting in the oonjal(swing) by my maama's side.Why aren't there any photographs i wonder.

  11. Usha Says:

    altoid: you disappoint me - go back to 2 or 3. I am sure you can remember something earlier than that!
    But of course this is a very sweet memory.

    Dotmom: :) and you started going to school at 3? Poor girl!

    Dhanya: You are lucky to remember it all.

    Doc: you DIDN"T! oh you did? and tell me what happened next.

    Veens:That is quite an early memory. Wonder why we rememebr certain things from that age and nothing from some later periods.

    Sumana: YOu mean you changed dresses in school - and we parents have no clue what our kids do when we send them to schools. :)

    Preethi: hahahah...You didn't want to hang out with "kids" huh?

    RajK:Nothing before this but you remember this incident? interesting.

    2 B's mom: will wait for news from you. :)

    Hipgran: Earliest? only at 5 1/2.
    This is getting to be more fun than I thought. :)

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Nothing. It was like this. She stood up, and had this sweet, plump bun which tempted lil me to grab it. I actually did it on her bare skin: no clothes ever get between me and a good time! ;-)
    She probably, like a good Indian girl, just shrugged it off.
    Thinking about it, it really was only curiosity. I have done worse a little later as a kid, but no one in the whole world knows about those, and I am not tellin' now! Brother Google is watchin'!

  13. dipali Says:

    I must have been about three or so.
    My(older)sister was starting school, and my mother was making a name tag to slip into the plastic frame of her school bag. Very significant memory!
    And trying to make trousers for our golliwog (yes, I was a child in a politically incorrect era), and getting very frustrated because I couldn't comprehend the third dimension (of thickness). And being fascinated when I realised that turning a garment inside out after the seams are done makes for a neat and tidy look! I was really a dumb kid:) And playing with the counters given to us in Maths class (in KG probably) and being scolded, and then actually sobbing.

  14. ~nm Says:

    I don't even remember how young I was to which this incident dates. We were in calcutta then. I must have been around 3 years I guess. My sisters had come from school and started to play badminton in the court that Appa had built up in the empty ground in front of our house. And I managed to hit the shuttle cock back, by fluke ofcourse, and everyoen went wow! I still remember that scene crisply :)

  15. Sunita Says:

    My earliest memory as i mentioned in one of my post earlier is that of me fishing with my grandpa.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Nice Post, Usha.
    my earliest memory was when I was around 2-3 was of our home in Malleswaram, before it became the concrete jungle that it is now. Picking paarijaatha flowers in the morning, getting bitten by kambli-poochi, our neighbors and my mother waking up at all odd times to heat the milk on the kerosene stove and of course, the good old betel-chewing maid..Kempamma.

  17. Choxbox Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Choxbox Says:

    Loved redaing this, it inspired a post - do check it out!

  19. Choxbox Says:

    Also I've linked this post to mine - hope its okay.

  20. I love thinking back and remembering things from the past. My earliest memory is upsetting a huge bowl of cooked dal that had unfortunately been kept on a low shelf in the kitchen. My mother tells me I was only a year-and-a-half! What a mundane memory, but I'm proud to remember something from the 1970s, at least :)

  21. Mahadevan Says:

    Thanks for providing me the spark. I have already prepared a small post on my early life and I shall publish that separately in my blog. It is too cruel, to rob space from you.

  22. Usha Says:

    Doc:Thank god you did all this in another time - today you might be lighter by a few rupees or tasting prison food. :)

    Dipali: If only all 'dumb" kids turned out to be as bright as you!!OH those math classes can really scar you for life!


    Sunita:yes, I remember That one!

    Sangeeta: The stuff memories are made of - ther must be some reason why we remember some and don't others!

    Chox: Will check out. :)Sure, feel free to link. Pleasure is all mine.

    Anamika: You Naughty child! but did you burn yourself in the process?

    Mahadevan: Looking forward to your post - why are they so rare these days?

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Thinking about my scarce number of memories I have makes me wonder if I do have childhood amnesia, and wondering if I have childhood amnesia makes me wonder if I really think I have childhood amnesia or if I'm just being paranoid or looking for an excuse for my forgetfullness =|

    I'm not at all sure what my first memory was--I never thought about putting ages to any of them, or how I would go about figuring it out in the first place.

  24. TealRose Says:

    am 56 yrs old ... and only really found out about childhood amnesia being a reality around, 15 years ago. Up till then .. I honestly thought the people I talked to were either being 'coy' and just saying that they couldn't remember before their first day of school or whatever. This is because I remember back to before my first birthday. [I checked lots of stuff with my mum, things that I could only know about with memory not false memory] I can remember being in my cot, over my mum/dad's shoulders, wetting etc my nappy, trying to learn how to use a potty! I can remember being in my big pram, and the sound rain made on it's 'roof'. I remember the taste of leather as I chewed the leather strap on my reins, drinking from a baby bottle, see my dad dressing for work, the bed they slept in ... I remember walking for the first time on my first birthday - and I remember the big bouncy 'horse' I had as a gift! I can draw an outline plan of the house I lived in until I was three... etc ! So you can see why I didn't know about this amnesia phenomena !! I have met one other person in my life who could do this - also a woman [and I believe women do have the edge on early memories].

    The big thing for me is ...WHY do I have the memories and 99% of people don't ??

    Does anyone else out there have these types of early memories too and does anyone have a theory on US ??