The Face Swap
Chapter 1 – Look Here! And Stop Dreaming about Ponytails
I am Raj and I am spending my Sunday sitting in Dr. Shetty’s office.
Who is Dr. Shetty?
Dr. Shetty is India’s ace Neurologist. People long just to get a five-minute appointment from him. And here I am sitting in his office for an up and close examination. He is my father’s friend and my condition is so rare and challenging that he would never had said no.
I suffer from Acquired Prosopagnosia or Face-Blindness. You can sit right across me and I will not be able to recognize you from your face. I can see your eyes, your nose, your lips and your ears. But my mind cannot put those jigsaw puzzle pieces together to form a face. Remembering a face is a long shot; I cannot identify any to begin with.
Many a morning when I get up and face a mirror, I have to wave my hands or nod my head to make my mind believe that it’s me in the mirror.
I was not born that way. In my teens like any other ordinary Joe, I was a big time Cricket fan. I went to a stadium to watch an India vs. Pakistan match, when a huge six shot catapulted the ball toward me in the stands. The ball didn’t relent its momentum and struck me in my head. That was the day I was surrounded by a sea of faces and that was the day I last recognized any.
I fell unconscious and was rushed to hospital. I woke up some two days later and couldn’t tell my mother and father among other people. A battery of brain scans, fMRI(s) and what not followed. Eight doctors later I was diagnosed with Prosopagnosia.
I haven’t seen a Cricket match post that, not even on T.V.
They say that what we assume to be a no-brainer actually requires a lot of brainpower. A very dedicated area in brain called fusiform gyrus helps us recognize faces. The impact some how struck and willfully destroyed a part of my fusiform gyrus – Brodmann area 37 also known as Fusiform Face Area (FFA).
When people come across me and know about my condition, they often ask how is it possible. To which I carry some flashcards in my pocket, with Mandarin/Chinese characters written over them. I ask them to read it. And when they cannot, I chuckle and tell them – ‘That’s what your face looks like to me’.
Some of them get the humor, some do not. But they do get the idea.
Adi told me that Dr. Shetty would be here in fifteen minutes or so. Adi is his assistant, a young, jovial and helpful lad.
But Uncle is nowhere to be seen. But I am not complaining, because the longer I am in the room alone, the longer I do not have to deal with any faces.
No faces around, no pressure and no frustration of being a face-blind.
By the way did I tell you that I do not avoid all faces? I look forward to few. To be precise, one in particular – Anvesha.
She is love of my life. She loves me too.
She is quite understanding and accepted me with my condition. We know that the road ahead may be bit rough, so for now we are taking it slow.
That being said, I think I can hear Dr. Shetty’s footstep in the alley outside. Maybe it’s Adi and Doc has cancelled the appointment. No it’s definitely Dr. Shetty.
Here he enters.
Same cologne, same walking style, same foot rhythm and the same body structure. It’s him.
I stood up and greeted him.
He took his coat off and sat on his work chair.
‘Tell me Raj, what made you prepone our appointment?’ he said.
‘What else, Uncle? I wish to see faces again. And maybe if you make any break through, who knows it may pave way for treatment for other people too.’ I replied.
‘Oh! Bullcrap! You plan to propose Anvesha, next month. Don’t you?’
‘How do you know?’
‘Adi told me. If you wish to keep a secret, keep it to yourself and don’t sing around.’
‘Yes! It will be our Anniversary, since we first met.’
Did I tell you guys that I met Anvesha at an upscale New Delhi Bar? Oh! We did.
I was out with my office colleagues and she was out with her friends.
We were hitting it off well, when she asked me for my number. Even before I could blurt those 10 digits, Neha my colleague said to her – ‘What would you do with his mobile number, he will not remember your face anyway?’
‘What does that mean?’ she said.
‘I have Face-Blindness, I do not recognize or remember faces.’ I confessed.
She started laughing and said ‘Not even the one which has been flashing smiles at you for past half an hour?’
‘No! He is serious. He is completely blind when it comes to faces.’ said Neha.
Anvesha didn’t say much. We still had some light-hearted conversation. It was a bit odd, or maybe it was just me. I was constantly thinking what was going through her mind.
The colorful lights were making her face gleam and glow. I could see the play of purplish-pinkish lights on her rich beautiful dark mocha coffee like complexion. Her jawline was well defined. Her eyes were smoky to say the least. Her cheekbones were prominent. And, her hairs were nicely tied into a Ponytail. Now that was the high point of her beauty. The tied back hair accented the contour of her lovely face and made her beautiful long neck more prominent and visible.
How I managed to notice her facial features, you wonder? Its almost like I can appreciate the individual pen strokes of Chinese script, but you can very well replace it with Korean or Japanese or Thai. And they mean the same to me – Nothing. My mind can notice each facial feature standalone but cannot put them together and each time I meet a person, I have to start noticing all his/her facial features again.
We chatted for another thirty minute or so and then she left.
That should have been the first and last time I saw her, or so I thought.
I was half asleep that night, when I received a text. She wanted to meet me the very next day. I smiled and slept a very sound sleep that night.
I woke up the next morning, it was a Saturday and I had little to no chore to attend to. She texted me again at noon and asked me to meet at Café Republica at Connaught Place.
“Just let me know what you would be wearing. That’s how I recognize people.” I texted her.
“Will be connected over phone, as we reach.” she texted back.
‘This is crazy!’ said Dr. Shetty.
I was puzzled as ever.
‘No one can cure such a brain injury, so soon. I am pretty sure you wont be able to see her face at least this anniversary.’ he said.
‘I kind of understand. But hope is all what I have got.’ I smiled and said.
Dr. nodded in agreement.
Meanwhile, Adi entered in the office too.
‘What is so special about her?’ said Uncle.
‘Her face contour and her ponytail.’ I replied.
‘You are being shallow, here.’ he said.
‘Am I? You do know Uncle, what makes her special. She accepted me as I am. She knows I cannot value her face ever. I might not even recognize her in crowd, but still she choose me over others.’ I said.
‘She is great, indeed.’ he said.
‘And, yes! Her Ponytail too.’ I said, chuckling.
‘I know why do you keep repeating that. Because her hairstyle and her face contour is all you remember about her. Don’t you?’ said Uncle.
‘I do. I made a sketch of her, if you are interested.’ I said.
Uncle smiled and told me to show him the sketch.
I was overwhelmed, I pressed onto the rotating metal doctor’s stool I was sitting upon and did a little spin on it.
I then pulled the paper bit out of my pocket. I handed it over to him and he took it from my hand.
‘It is a sketch of her face’s outline. That’s all I can make sense and remember for now. But I am working on it. I will soon draw her face in full. One Day.’ I said to him.
‘Look Here! And Stop Dreaming about Ponytails.’ said Uncle Shetty’s voice, from a direction perpendicular to me.
I was looking at Adi, and he had that sketch in his hand.
That little spin disoriented me and made me face Adi instead. And, I didn’t notice, rather missed his facial and body structure and took him for uncle instead.
‘Stop getting excited. You miss non-facial cues when you are anxious.’ said Uncle.