The Hindu News Coverage – Capital’s memory wizard

NEW DELHI,January 7, 2013

Capital’s memory wizard

World Memory Champion Saswat Satapathy during an interview in New Delhi on Sunday.— Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Taj Mahal is on a table in which people are dining, the pillar next to the table is made out of books and in the buffet they are serving human eyes…..

What sounds like gibberish to us is merely a strange “journey” that 15-year-old Saswat Satapathy is on as he remembers the string of numbers before him. After all, it has not even been a month since he returned from remembering 1,080 digits in one hour at the World Memory Championships (WMC) in London. Thus, this journalists’ string of 18 words was just “too easy”.

“Basically, I convert numbers into pictures and then I use persons or actions to link them together,” he says, explaining the method to this madness.

“It’s difficult to explain, but I imagine that I am on a journey,” he immediately adds. Saswat’s journey, which led him to becoming the ‘National Memory Champion’ in Hyderabad last October and hold the second place at the World Junior Memory Championship, began in 2009 when he could only remember those words and objects that he could see, feel or touch.

“Earlier he could remember only things such as aeroplanes, cars, buses, tubelights… things he could see around him,” says his father Debasis Satapathy. “But now he can even recall made up words such asAtosanyaorOmantapiya.”

At the WMC, held from December 14 to 16 in London, Saswat had to recall a lot more than just numbers — random names, abstract images and historic dates. “I also participated in the ‘spoken numbers event’, which is very difficult but also my favourite,” he says. Here the computer calls out one digit per second, which the participants have to recall within a time limit.

Yet this Class X student of Delhi Public School R.K. Puram is among a handful of “mental athletes” from North India. “In India, there aren’t many competitions to test this skill. Altogether there may be 30 ‘serious’ athletes. In the North, there may be five [such] athletes. It’s largely monopolised by South Indians, particularly people from Andhra Pradesh,” says Saswat.

But through his skill set, awareness around this “mental sport” is increasing in North India, what with many of Saswat’s classmates starting to get interested in the sport and his school funding his trip to London.

“After I participated in many competitions, my friends have started to understand what all this is about. But when I try teaching some of my friends, they back off after the first session because it is too tiresome and frustrating,” he laughs.

But more often then not, he has left his classmates wide-eyed and astonished at his amazing grasping power. “Once we had to recite a poem in class when I was in standard VI or VII, but I had been away from school for many days. I asked my friend for the poem and memorised it within 15 minutes. Then my teacher challenged me to recite it backwards, which I did, and everyone was astonished,” he laughs. Being a memory wizard does help Saswat at school to remember dates in History and terms in Biology — especially since he wants to be a doctor when he grows up.