The Devi is in the Details

Published: 17th January 2016 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th January 2016 12:14 AM   |  A+A-

If memory is the diary that we carry about us, then women have a heavier load to bear.

Science (and domestic experience) have been saying for a while now that a woman’s memory is better than a man’s. Monday provided further proof. It was the evening of the Devi Awards, which our newspaper group presents to super-achievers who’re changing lives and society through their work. These are travelling awards that seek out unsung heroes from across India, and celebrate their achievements by sharing them with the public.

The celebration was in New Delhi last week, and it involved meeting and listening to the stories of 15 incredible women. Union Minister Sushma Swaraj was there too, as guest of honour, to give away the awards and deliver the keynote address as a woman of substance. But to everyone’s surprise, she refused to make the mandatory speech. She’d rather hear the winners’ narratives first, she said, and proceeded to sit quietly and listen to the ladies as they spoke of good times and bad.

It was only after the Devis had returned to their seats that the minister spoke. She stood at the podium and paid tribute to winner after winner. There wasn’t a single detail that she missed. She didn’t just remember the achievers’ names, she recalled everything they had said, and provided context for their achievements. By the time she finished, the audience was clear: there were 15 Devis and one Super-Devi in the house.  

While Swaraj—in addition to her legal training and her formidable oral skills—has the rare facility to find connections where others see only gaps, she has company when it comes to her remarkable memory. Female company, that is. You know those complaints that men have about womenfolk holding old grouses, and airing them at the drop of a button? Or the grievances that women have about husbands never remembering to buy whatever-they-are-supposed to on their way home?

Well, neither sex can help it. Women’s brains are wired to recall names and narratives long after the day has passed. Men are built to forget. Doctors say the hippocampus, or the part of the brain that controls memory, shrinks faster in men than in women, particularly after 40. They also say the difference starts from childhood when girls remember and like to relate every detail about their day to parents while boys shrug away memories with grunts and grins. 

That’s not to say that men forget everything (though it can seem like that to an irked wife). Many can spout dates, facts and figures from memory even late in life. But ask them to recall a conversation, or details about someone from the past, and most men will have a tough time even remembering the question. Perhaps it’s time to start couching conversation in sporting data. Any suggestions, minister?


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