Thursday, July 29

The Nuances of Nostalgia 

Nostalgia, as they say, isn’t what it used to be. With all the manner of Facebook groups centered around Proustian themes culled out from the 90's pages, there’s nowhere to turn for those who spent their early childhood years in the 70s. Of course there are groups that discuss Doordarshan shows and such, but it makes one wonder if it’s merely going to transmogrify into a cult that will be hence reminisced as the Facebook Group of Doordarshan Nostalgists, even as Facebook wanes and makes way for a new networking site, which will possibly be called Videobook..and the charm of what the group aimed to achieve to begin with will be lost in the chase.

It’s hard to let a sepia-toned memory go by placidly, especially at a time when one is faced with innumerable vicissitudes of novelties that come unannounced and leave without warning. A friend recently initiated a nostalgic mission of sorts, a series of mails where we log some of our fondest or most bizarre school memories. It’s been nothing short of amazing to discover how amnesia has struck each of us at different points. Each one’s version of an episode is just a little different from the other’s, and each one knows more about the workings of the other’s teenage mind. I have also discovered that there are varying degrees of selfdom involved in all this recounting of things past. There are certain instances where selective amnesia comes into play, where one only remembers the incidents one was involved in. At other instances, one demonstrates an acute-edged sensitivity in that the sentiments and thoughts of the other are finely accentuated. The mystery that still shrouds this analysis of sorts is the fact that one will never know how grown up one feels about one’s teenage years. As teens, we probably assumed a sense of maturity, and while some of the decisions we took in that spirit retain their gravity years hence, some do leave a callow taste in the mouth. One suspects we will never feel grown-up enough, and the emotions that fill out the expanse of the thinking mind today will space themselves out soon enough, leaving vacuous trails for newer sensations to take over. Every year, every decade has its zeitgeist, and it’s rather astounding how phenomena acquire newfangled forms and mitigate the idiosyncrasies of the older ones, as if mockingly.

In music and art, the nostalgic wheel perpetually turns over. There is always a yearning for the olden classics, the desire to revisit jagged-edged frames from the black-and-white era. We can’t stop talking about old melodies, trends, books and pictures. They don’t make them like they used to, we lament. On closer inspection, I find that it’s more to do with the congealing of our own definitions of feel-good stuff over time, than the lack of desire to explore newness. We grow old, never failing to hold on to the childish streak, needless to say, while adjusting our postulations and beliefs as we go along just a little, leaving no scope for malleability whatsoever. And bits of reminiscences of how we liked things, as opposed to how things were, flow embedded in a stream of consciousness spout of thought, every now and then.

At the same time, the wheel that perpetually turns over allows for an alliteration of sorts, making nostalgia fashionable at calibrated intervals. Strains of old melodies begin to reverberate underneath the thrum of newage beats, and in the manner of Millhauser-esque projections, farthingale gowns would possibly make a comeback in variegated forms, even as women, in all their pencil-heeled glory, deflect the onslaught of pettiskirt exigencies gracefully. Updos are reinvented every so often, while the silken splendor of long, open-ended tresses reigns seasonally. Old classics are retold, remade, and with each attempt it seems as if a new vista for learning has been opened, a new perspective acquired, new eccentricities lit up. And at the bottom of every resurgence, the yen for holding on to something that belonged strums constantly, manifesting in the manner of nostalgic storytelling trips.

I remember a chain email that was doing the rounds many moons ago, that talked about ageing and social, musical, and artistic timelines. It said, “You know you’re growing really old when you’re surrounded by ‘youngsters’ who believe that Uptown Girl came from Westlife.” That is as scary as scary can get, but I think I’ll go play Joel, among Dylan and maybe even Flatt & Scruggs from grandpa’s 'playlist,' in loops so my five-year-old won’t grow up oblivious to what gilds nostalgia in her mommy’s world. For all I know, she may care more for the candyfloss rainbows of today, but gold may just become the new sterling silver, as cycles go.

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