That Thing About Nostalgia

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That Thing About Nostalgia

An essay by Neha Sureka.

Sometimes when I’m tired or when I’m in a sombre mood or sometimes just like that while Netflixing, I feel like re-watching an old movie. Old as I mean a 90s flick, with its atypical flair of stories, dialogues, song, and dance routine. Click on a Maine Pyaar Kiya, Andaaz Apna Apna, Dil To Pagal Hai, or a Hum Apke Hain Kaun, and I enter the world of cinema and good old memories of my tween/teen years. When I was watching the iconic DDLJ, I remember drooling over an unkempt Shahrukh Khan, fancying over Kajol’s outfits, bantering with friends on the ‘Senorita..Jaa Simran Jaa’ dialogues and preparing for Board exams at the same time.

Do not know what hooked me more - the movie or the memories, or perhaps both and continued watching it with a constant and content smile, when my tween son peeped in to give me company. Five minutes into it and he comments, ‘This is so tacky and boring’, let’s change it”.

Like What did I just hear!!

“Huh you have no taste. This is one of the classic movies of all times. If you haven’t watched this, you haven’t watched anything”. I outpoured and shooed him away.

This happens many times. Sometimes he leaves and sometimes he gives in and watches along, trying to make sense of my fondness for those movies. Dare I ever admit to him, but I can’t help acknowledging to myself the lack in most 90s movies - cliched dialogues, over-the-top acting, the gyrating moves, the tacky fashion sense.

Definitely cinema technique has evolved multitude and so have the plots nuanced over a period of time, yet once in a while I enjoy the yesteryear’s flavour, for its comforting to reckon the simplicity, carefreeness, of my previous times through them. Nostalgia is comforting. The comfort of familiarity, of predictability, comfort of finding oneself, reassuring of one’s belongings at the backdrop of old movies, pictures and conversations.

And thus, I hold back any comment/ opinion when I observe my Father-in-Law quietly enjoying a 60s flick...!

Comforting it is nowadays to reminiscence my office days in Church Street. The street, though tucked between popular MG road and Brigade road yet stands to its character where past meets present. Where oldies chatter in Indian Coffee House and youngsters hobnob in Starbucks. Where artsy-wartsies smoke the stubs in one corner and start-up dreamers on the other at the ubiquitous pubs on the street. Where the oldest bookstores thrive along with the new-age entertainment stores, where the city’s oldest newspaper company chugs along with the all-frills co-working space, where a colonial age bungalow awaits to lose its ground, while a new commercial centre pops up.

I have witnessed many changes in the street including the reconstruction of the road to a fancy A-la European style brick one, a few years ago. That phase of one year’s road-reconstruction made it a nightmare to walk on with debris, ditches all around. This is when, one day I had encountered a lady, perhaps in her late 70s wobbling on the uneven and messy street. And instinctively decided to help her walk through. Apparently, she had to come to pay her Vodafone bill at the street’s store and was heading back towards her car half a mile away. Not in the best of her moods, she kept abhorring the new structures, cribbing about unorganized work, her detest quite obviously compounded by the ordeal of an uncomfortable walk. Slightly irked and a little amused, I kept listening to it all, following her like a faithful pet. In between her complaints, she did however also reminisce her glorious youthful days spent in the street. She used to frequent the street for shopping, sometimes for celebrating good tides, other times to carry on errands and reckoned her favourite pit stops. We passed by an old bungalow and she could not help taking a delight at that fragment of familiarity and started recounting its history. During the course, she mentioned that her daughter from Mumbai could have paid off the bills online but did not want to burden her with the expense that she would never claim. After a while, when I was assured the road was comfortable enough, I left her to continue with her journey. But could not leave the sight of her. Throughout her baby-steps she kept turning her head from left to right, right to left, fascinating the known and absorbing the unknown. Finally, she was out of my sight but not out of my mind. Though she mentioned she did not want to trouble her daughter but was that the real reason? Did she really come to pay the bill or was it just an excuse to revisit her past? Nostalgia is captivating. It lures and compels one to travel to the past places/premises, especially to the one where one had their best times.

Compelled like I was to visit my previous city and particularly our hostel in one of our reunions recently. 15 years it must have been that I left the place. But 3 of us friends decided to revisit it for the memories that we shared, the highs, the lows, the time which we consider some of the best days of our lives. Excited and anxious, I kept hiding a smile within while driving towards the place. And when we reached the building my muscle memory worked through the climbing of stairs, maneuvering through the foyer, stepping into the rooms. There was a strange familiarity as if I had never left the place.

Flood of memories rushed in, as we got talking about good ol’ days, the banter, each other’s quirks, late-night Maggi parties and gossips, other mates, some close, some just known. Unlike never during our stay, Uncle, the owner entertained us with chai-gupshup and reckoned many other hostel-mates with whom we had lost touch.

While the warm chat went on, my mind drifted off to how I had started there with homesickness, coping up with 4 other strangers in the room, eventually joining a new college, overcoming my timidness to finally becoming more confident, developing a sense of belongingness to the place, enjoying life, starting work, achieving small successes. In a way I owed a lot to the place and it was home then.

But after so many years, even amidst the familiarity, there seemed an awkward unfamiliarity settling in. Everything about the premise, the room was the same yet not the same.

Was it the age, the place, the people, our equations, our priorities or my perspectives that had changed? Or was it the time that had changed everything?

Guess we were all going through similar thoughts, when one of us asked, if we were to re-join the hostel once again, together that is, will we be able to live.

It sounded absurd. At a younger age, enthusiasm, carefreeness, it was fun and fine to live there.

I indeed missed it and it was nice to go back for a reunion there and experience a time-machine moment. But to make it a present once again, seemed undesiring.

Hostel life may have the age appropriateness, but similar quandaries can be faced, sometimes to move back to a favourite place/city/house/organisation/relationship hoping for the familiar good old life and experiences. But a lot changes every minute and things may not remain the same at the other end and ours. And even if one judiciously decides to move back, he/she moves subconsciously aware of the changes to be adapted to.

Regardless, revisiting helps moving on from a previous desire/favourite.

It helps to introspect and reflect upon the past every now and then coz, some memories bring in a smile, some bring out sadness, some makes one realise how far one has evolved from a previous time, some re-inspires a talent/relationship from the yonder, some restores lost will and some simply liberates from a past knot.

Nostalgia is comforting, captivating, compelling but in its own cathartic way, it helps to embrace and kindle the present.


Neha Sureka  is a Bengaluru-based poet, writer, and blogger. She blogs here .

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