Worried over my poor grades in school, my grandmother once told me that if I prayed to Lord Hayagreeva by reciting the Hayagreeva mantra 100 times a day, I would excel in my studies.
Now as a student in class 4, I was hardly interested in reciting it 100 times (that is like an hour of play time lost) and I wasn't really convinced with the mechanics of it. So I told my grandmother maybe if I pray to Lord Hayagreeva a month before exams, he would remember to help me as my prayers would be fresh in his memory.
Let's not dwell on what happened to my final results, but let's address the larger question at hand- What are the mnemonic devices that people use in order to enhance memory power and are they really effective?
Recently, a class 12 student from Bengaluru was duped by three astrologers whom she had approached, after seeing their advertisement that promised to help boost memory. Not only did the poojas and ceremonies which they professed would improve memory didn't have the desired effect, but she also ended up losing 80 gm of gold that she had given as a consultation fee.
In the light of this incident, memory enhancement methods have been brought into sharp focus.
"Unlike first world countries, in India academics are theory heavy and teachers expect them to reproduce exactly what textbooks say. Most students indulge in mugging up lessons and problems instead of understanding the concept. It takes away the value of education itself," said Deeba, who has been in the teaching profession for 20 years.
If you thought only students were worried about memory, then you are wrong. The problem exists among people of all age groups.
"My father asked me to drink this Ayurveda memory booster Kashayam (tonic) mix sprinkled with gold leaves. I have been advised to be vegetarian on the days I drink the kashayam. The only problem is that I forget to drink it," said Meera, a 24-year-old woman from Palakkad, Kerala.
Many a 'cure' available
If you search online for memory enhancement methods, the results will vary from psychological methods to astrological techniques and from books on the subject to educational classes.
One website claims that the direction one faces while reading a book makes a huge difference, they call it Saraswathi icon.
Contrary to health advisors who suggest healthy food habits to strengthen memory, astrologers suggest fasting for people who feel their memory retention is poor.
There are also online pharmacy websites which suggest a list of "nootropics" or brain enhancing drugs, which are largely claimed to be organic or Ayurvedic made with Indian and foreign herbs.
Every city and town has an abundance of classes- for adults and children that offer to sharpen memory and 'enhance' the brain. According to a website, they focus on how to effectively use the right brain for creativity and the left brain for shaping and structuring new information.
There are many people who take tips from Vedic science. Vedic science recommends meditation, breathing techniques and yoga, Ayurvedic remedies and also suggests that wearing a silver ring with a pearl embedded in can help boost memory.
Memory booster tonics and tablets are available over the counter and almost every system of medicine has a solution for people who are worried about memory problems.
Memory booster medicines should not be popped in like calcium tablets
Roseline Gomes, a counsellor says that medicines for boosting memory are common with children whose parents spend less time with family, leading to a series of problems like undernourishment, sleep deprivation etc.
"They want to take an easy way out. Parents think memory boosters or tonics work similarly as popping calcium tablets to strengthen bones. Most families, who came for counselling for their teenage sons and daughters, usually had tried medicines. In many cases, we saw that children who fared well in primary classes scored poorly in high school," she said.
Memory cannot be quantified, hence memory boosters are questionable
Mukram Shariff, a homoeopathy doctor said, "I have seen and heard of many cases where parents bring their child to me and ask for "reliable" memory boosters, enhancers. There is absolutely no concern for the child's aptitude and ability."
"The whole idea of memory is that you have to work on it. Our memory works by connecting new events to the past events, this process make it easy to recollect later. Memory capacity also depends on how smooth is the blood flow in the brain," he said.
The efficacy of memory boosters has not been clinically studied like that of other medicines.
For instance, one cannot clearly say that before taking memory enhancers, the person's memory was 100 gm and after taking enhancers it has become 200 gm. Long-term effects of these tonics and medicines have not been studied as yet," Sharif adds.
Considering that memory boosters and tonics have not been proven to be totally safe and beneficial, the jury is still out on whether these medicines should be taken at all or not.
Picture of memory booster/ www.dhanwantari.com
Feature picture: www.indiamart.com and By Allan Ajifo via Wikimedia Commons