It was a book that Kunwer Rajeev had been recommended by a friend to read. First published in 2011, it was called ‘Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.’ As Rajeev went through the book sometime in the last week of May 2015, it seemed to him that he had found what he was looking for.

The book was an account of a journalist, Joshua Foer, who had gone to report on a memory competition, and how he enjoyed reporting on the competition so much that it changed his life too. Two years later, Joshua had become a changed man. The book made it to the New York Times bestsellers’ list and stayed there for eight weeks.

As he flipped through the pages, there was a lot to learn for Rajeev, who teaches physics at a college in Jalandhar University. Even as he read the book, there were several other references that came to his mind. It suggested that the human memory is practically unlimited, but very few have the knowledge on how to make the best use of its potential. It mentioned many practical methods of improving one's memory. Rajeev adopted and started practicing those methods. He was excited when his efforts brought results and he could memorise a few hundred phone numbers.

This book was different from the several books on self-development that he had read earlier. He also saw many videos and consulted websites on memory enhancement. He had to modify the techniques used by the Egyptians and Greeks as per his own requirement. Up until now, Rajeev was attempting this only out of his enthusiasm, without any idea that so many records could be made from this feat.

’If you control your thoughts, you can control your life’ was the sum of what the book had to say. “I was always interested in understanding how the mind works and I almost found it to be the perfect read for me,” says Rajeev about the life-changing experience. He was recognised by the Limca Book of Records in the 2018 edition for his achievements.

The walking, talking encyclopedia!

Ask Rajeev the names of India’s 543 Lok Sabha parliamentary constituencies and by the time you have blinked a few times, he will have completed the entire list. Prod him and he will mention the names of the Members of Parliament from each of the 543 constituencies with their party affiliations. There are several other data points that he can recall at the drop of a hat.

He has memorised atomic numbers and the exact atomic mass of all the 118 periodic table elements, the value of Pi to a thousand digits, many data points of Indian states and union territories, (name, capital, longitude, latitude, chief ministers, parties, population, area, number of districts, number and name of all parliamentary constituencies, number of assembly seats) and much more. Birthdays of numerous famous Indian personalities, days of the week for 1000 years, demographic data of countries (names, capitals, population and their exact area), all ministers of the union cabinet and their portfolios … the list is long. Rajeev was inspired by Chester Santos – former winner of the US Memory Championship.

Memorising needed immense discipline and an organised way of going through the data. He was never among the toppers at DAV School, Amritsar where he did his higher secondary schooling, or later when he attended Khalsa College in the city. But with an organised approach, Rajeev could manage to do what appeared to be very difficult for most people.

“I have never had to work very hard for all this. It is about discipline. I have always been in my comfort zone and see no reason why that should change,” Rajeev says, explaining how hard he has had to work for becoming an encyclopedia for subjects that he chooses to master.

The preparation for making a record is a little rigorous, though. Several days before he attempts one, he makes it a point to follow his schedule without fail. Every hour, an alarm will remind him that the data he knows must be revised. (Trust a teacher to do this!) This happens nearly 18-20 times in a day.

“We must learn to deal with ourselves first. If we can do that, we can easily deal with the external world without too many problems,” he says.

So, as he was preparing to make a record before an audience at DAV University, Jalandhar on August 24, 2018, the routine was being followed to perfection. He wanted to break the record for memorising the highest number of countries and capitals of the world within 60 seconds. It meant that he had to be not only fast, but also very precise with the information that he had.

On the appointed date, several timekeepers were keeping an eye on every movementof the dial. Judges had reached the venue, along with a hall full of curious teachers, students and some others craning their necks and see what it was all about.

Not many in the audience may have heard of Monu Kumar Shukla from Bhopal who had memorised the names of 53 countries and their capitals in 60 seconds, and had created a world record on November 8, 2013. Rajeev was confident of wresting the record in his name. As he faced the audience, a screen on his back had the list of countries and capitals which he was preparing to list.

The moment the judges asked him to begin, he took off like nothing was stopping him. By the time the buzzer had hit 60 seconds, Rajeev had rattled off an unbelievable 95 countries and their capitals, an average of over three countries and their capitals every two seconds! The record was below his personal best of 97 but it was a huge improvement from the existing world record.

At the end of it, Rajeev turned emotional as the audience was jubilant. Congratulatory messages started pouring in and the students lined up for selfies and autographs.

Memory champion is also human!

A record breaking effort may, sometimes, have its own challenges. One such challenge happened in 2017, when he was to be in Faridabad to make four memory records in a day. January 19 had been fixed and a large hall had been booked at DAV Public School, Faridabad. As he went about the discipline of organising the data in his mind in his Jalandhar home, a personal tragedy occurred. His elder brother passed away two weeks before the all-important event. Rajeev went through a personal crisis and completed his family duties as a brother.

The training was disrupted because of the tragic loss. But he went ahead with the planned event for setting the record.

“It was internal motivation that has always been driving me. I always wanted to control the thought process so that I could try to control myself,” he says, referring to the challenges faced after his brother passed away.

He reached Faridabad a day before the event. On the appointed date, several senior officials of nearby DAV institutions were also present in the audience. The judge, Komal Singh, had arrived. With the turn of the dial, she signaled for him to start, and he proceeded to make his first record comfortably. After a gap of ten minutes each, he attempted the second and then the third records, which were followed by thunderous applause from the audience. However, as he tried his hand at the fourth record, he just could not organise the data in his mind and had to give up after his second attempt, taken after a break of a few minutes.

For once, even the super mind could be human and choke!

Making of the memory whiz

The date August 8, 1988 or 08/08/88 is easy to remember. It also was the day Rajeev joined Jalandhar University after completing his M. Phil. Reading had been a hobby and becoming a teacher to inspire the next generation appeared to be a natural progression for him. While teaching physics made him work hard as a teacher, he was also reading several books beyond the needs of his work.

The love for books drove him to read many more. Nearly 10-12 years into his job, the reading list for Rajeev was growing by the weeks and months. And he was looking for more and more.

But the idea of making a record in his name had never occurred to him till he met a relative in Delhi, who asked him to go for it. After receiving sound advice, Rajeev started the process of creating records with his powerful and well-organised memory training.

Rajeev says that anyone who wants to become a memory champion can do so. The most critical element is that the mind should be focused on achieving what appears to be impossible. As he goes about evangelising the idea among the people, especially students, he wants to see more positive energy around him.

“People can do the impossible, only if they want to and are focused on achieving it,” Rajeev sums up.