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Topographical disorientation

Topographical disorientation

Photo for representation. File photo



CV Sukumaran

THE establishment where I worked had an office boy named Murali. His sense of direction was commendable. He could find his way around easily even in a new place. Given a big city’s complex and myriad alleyways, retracing one’s steps back to the place from where one started is quite a feat. He moved around delivering letters and financial documents to several offices and banks in the city and suburbs. Those were the days when courier service was little-known.

A close relative of mine, whose name, coincidentally, is Murali, also has this admirable skill. In contrast to this amazing duo, my sense of direction is abysmally poor, so much so that I often find myself lost whenever I go to a new place. Maybe I am suffering from what is called topographical disorientation in clinical parlance. I have to keep asking people for directions. While doing so, I make sure that the person whom I have asked doesn’t see me enquiring from others.

A year before the advent of the Covid pandemic, which one recalls with a shudder, our group of eight persons — including me and my wife — undertook a tour of Schengen countries. During the last leg of the trip, we found ourselves at the Paris airport one morning. Owing to the rescheduling of our flight, we had much time on our hands before check-in.

All of us wanted to freshen up. I volunteered to wait to keep an eye on our baggage while the others walked towards the washrooms. I asked the security guard, whom I had heard talking to someone in English, a moment ago, whether there was any bookshop nearby. He said: ‘Yes, there are two, both not far from each other, a little away from the washrooms.’ I asked him if English books were available there or only French, which was Greek to me. He said with a grin: ‘Of course, yes.’ Gladdened, I walked in the direction of the bookshops, as instructed by the guard. My responsibility of staying put beside the baggage till my fellow travellers returned had inexcusably slipped my mind.

While returning from the bookstalls, I walked circuitously with a view to exercising my legs. Inevitably, I lost my way. All kinds of negative thoughts stormed my mind. Suppose someone made good of our bags, I feared. I had heard that some European cities were notorious for thefts. Was Paris one of them? Could be just a myth, I tried to reassure myself.

At last, I found my companions. I wished that humans, too, had the powerful olfactory ability which nature had bestowed liberally on his best friend.

Thank goodness, my wife, who was in a jewellery shop with her sisters-in-law, did not miss me at all!


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