Chapter 32: A Little Bit off the Track
So he started writing in a diary. Then he started forgetting those diaries; where has he put the diary? Where has he left it? Finally, his wife started learning something about science and started taking notes, so that whenever he was in trouble, she could give him the notes. She had a good memory, but no intelligence. But it was fortunate that she was with Edison. Once he forgot his own name, which is a rare, very rare phenomenon. I don’t think it has happened ever, or it will happen again. To forget one’s own name, that seems to be getting to the rock bottom of forgetfulness. You cannot forget anything more - nothing is left.
In the first world war, when ration cards were introduced for the first time, everybody had to go to register his name and get his ration card. Edison also went and he was standing in a long queue. Slowly, slowly, the queue was becoming smaller and he finally got to the front and the clerk shouted loudly, “Thomas Alva Edison!” He looked all around, “Who is Thomas Alva Edison?” He asked the man behind him, “Do you know this fellow?”
The clerk said, “It is strange, where is this man, Thomas Alva Edison?” Somebody far back in the queue recognized that he was a world famous scientist. He had seen his pictures in the newspapers. He shouted from the back of the queue, “You are Thomas Alva Edison, I can guarantee it.”
He said, “If you can guarantee it, I will accept it. But as far as I am concerned, I have completely forgotten what my name is, because almost for fifty years nobody has used my name. My students, out of respect, just call me professor. My colleagues, out of respect, just call me professor. And my parents died very early on, when I was very young, so there is nobody who uses my name. Slowly, slowly, I have become accustomed to hear my name as ‘the professor’. But I think you are right. Far, far back I remember, as if in a dream, I have heard Thomas Alva Edison, perhaps that is my name. And anyway nobody else is claiming it.”
The clerk said, “You seem to be insane.” He said, “That’s true.”
The world is full of sane people and those sane people do nothing at all; it is only the insane who have helped man’s evolution. And this is true not only about Edison, but about many scientists, about many painters, about many poets.
Once, George Bernard Shaw was traveling in a train. The ticket checker came and Bernard Shaw looked all over, he almost felt like he was having a nervous breakdown because the ticket could not be found. The ticket checker said, “Don’t be worried, Sir. I know you, the whole world knows you. The ticket must be somewhere in your luggage and I will be coming in the next round, you can show me - and even if you don’t show me there is no need to worry.” He was not ready to listen to what Bernard Shaw said to him: “You shut up. You don’t understand my problem. Who cares about you? The problem is if I don’t find my ticket, then I don’t know where I am going. It is written on the ticket. So are you going to decide for me? I am in such trouble, the ticket has to be found.”
The ticket checker must have been taken aback, that this was a strange situation. Shaw was not worried about being caught without a ticket, his worry was far, far deeper. Now the question was, where was he going? And because he could not find the ticket he had to go back home on the next train. He could not bring to his memory the place he was going to.