‘You are behaving like Swamy’s grandmother’, said my son irritatingly, for the umpteenth time.
For the uninitiated, Swaminathan aka Swami is the adorable character in the first of the trilogy written by R K Narayan called as “Swamy and friends”….you can read the excerpts of the glorious conversation between the two at the end of the post..
My mind briefly went to the Malgudi town but the frown and scowl on my son’s face, prevented me to linger there longer. I am incapacitated to be the servant of two masters, listening to my son’s banters about the Earth’s magnetic field cracking, or the switching of the tracks in the railways or ISRO’s mission called Aditya to study the Sun and proposal to place a satellite on one of the Langrange points (there are five such locations or points around Earth’s orbit where the gravitational forces of the Earth and Sun are equal) is like walking and chewing gum at the same time which I woefully admit I cannot do at the same time!
Crippled that I am at the idea of multi tasking, forget about multi tasking, even juggling two balls or keying or typing with all fingers is simply out of bounds. There is an auto shut off function of the ears refusing to absorb conversations while I am at something and the periodic hmmm, aahaa, ohhh..from my mouth chimes like the clock and evidently the questions asked are answered as ok or alright or given irrelevant answers much to the annoyance and displeasure of the speaker!
So it is always one at a time, irrespective of the scale and level of tasks, and I normally get into combat mode if burdened with too many chores at a time. And whenever I depart from the trodden path and accept into doing more, it apparently ends up in error prone and shoddy work with insufficient attention. When two stimuli such as making dosa and talking over the phone manifests itself simultaneously, either the dosa turns charcoal or the caller on the phone gets weird responses. The interference in the signal could also effect in salt in the tea instead of sugar or reading the same sentence or paragraph over and over again, the former consequence will indeed have a lasting impact on one’s tongue or relinquishing the idea of drinking tea altogether!
The bandwidth, therefore is very narrow and un accomodative to many frequency ranges and if still forced in, the output would be noisy and jarring and sometimes go berserk and even run amok like it happened to my mother, who incidentally also falls in similar predicaments. Long ago, when she started her car driving lessons, the instructor’s commands and directives would fall on deaf ears, due to the preoccupations and the diverse functions integrating and differentiating in her brain; whether the front door was latched, or did she turn off the gas, did the cooker blow the mandatory four whistles, what would the dish be for her father in law, a stickler for time, who would be at the lunch table at 12 noon sharp, had the tailor stitched the blouse, what would she present her friend with on her anniversary, what is the latest Hindi film flick…an imbroglio of activities in the Hadron collider that accelerates her pedals, and the hands and feet wielding the steering wheel, the gear and the throttle would automatically disengage leaving the pedestrians and other vehicles on the road to fend for themselves. The trainer finally gave up and so did her driving lessons!
However, there is ample evidence to the contrary on the streaming of multiple functions in one’s brain, and carrying out the tasks with great aplomb and accomplishing all of them successfully, the remarkable cognitive ability to leave a particular function and rapidly come back to that very same location and continue with the same focus. My husband can focus on myriad dissimilar roles without prioritizing and process all the information, an order which comes to the fore when he is making notes on subjects or when writing a book; he can refer to dozen books by different authors (probably he could juggle in more, but his desk can hold only so many) and recall who wrote what and still draw his own observations and conclusions. He has the uncanny ability to run through different items on a check list at the same time while I pursue the easiest and most rewarding first and descending slowly step by step to the dull and the uneventful such as finding keys for locks or searching for contact numbers!
If I were to do a similar exercise as that of my hubby’s, my brain would have become a bottle neck congested and choked like the traffic in Bangalore! Mired neural network and signals getting lost in wilderness…well this is what it can do if you have been living with a electronics engineer for quarter to a century.
Probably, the capability to multitask has something to do with retention of information which worsens with the effort to hold voluminous load of data and the massive drills undertaken to switch from this to that and that to this! The conventional thought of women as better multi taskers would take a hit with me as a major contributor to disprove this notion.
Maybe it has to with paying too much attention and focus on one detail that prevents me from spreading a wider net to catch all information enabling my brain to skim, browse and flip through capturing the essence of all and sundry and taking shots at everything. Through my inability to multitask, I cannot guarantee productivity, efficiency and quality, but the flip side, does benefit in less chores handed down, avoiding a collision with another vehicle due to talking over the cell phone, although other reasons cannot be ruled out, or burning a roti listening to my son’s animated badinages!!!
Excerpts from Swamy and friends by R K Narayan…
After the night meal with his head on his granny’s lap, nestling close to her, Swaminathan felt very snug and safe in the faint atmosphere of cardamom and cloves.
‘Oh, Granny!’ he cried ecstatically. ‘You don’t know what a great fellow Rajam is.’ He told her the story of the first enmity between Rajam and Mani and the subsequent friendship.
‘You know, he has a real police dress,’ said Swaminathan.
‘Is it? What does he want a police dress for?’ asked Granny.
‘His father is the Police Superintendent. He is the master of every policeman here.’
Granny was impressed. She said that it must be a tremendous office indeed. She then recounted the days when her husband, Swaminathan’s grandfather, was a powerful sub-magistrate, in which office he made the police force tremble before him and the fiercest dacoits of the place flee.
Swaminathan waited impatiently for her to finish the story. But she went on, rambled, confused, mixed up various incidents that took place at different times.
‘That will do, Granny,’ he saidungraciously. ‘Let me tell you something about Rajam. Do you know how many marks he gets in arithmetic?’
‘He gets all the marks, does he, child?’ asked Granny.
‘No silly. He gets ninety marks out of one hundred.’
‘Good. But you must also try and get marks like him. You know, Swami, your grandfather used to frighten the examiners with his answers sometimes. When he answered a question, he did it in a tenth of the time that others took to do it. And then, his answers would be so powerful that his teachers would give him two hundred marks sometimes.
‘Oh, enough, Granny! You go on bothering about old unnecessary stories. Won’t you listen to Rajam?’
‘Yes, dear, yes.’ ‘Granny, when Rajam was a small boy, he killed a tiger.’ Swaminathan started his story enthusiastically: Rajam’s father was camping in a forest. He had his son with him. Two tigers came upon them suddenly, one knocking down the father from behind. The other began chasing Rajam, who took shelter behind a bush and shot it dead with his gun. ‘Granny, are you asleep?” Swaminathan asked at the end of the story…