Monday, May 4, 2015

Nostalgia has its limits

What is nostalgia? It is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Wikipedia says that it refers to a general interest in the past, their personalities and events, especially the "good old days" from one's earlier life. One can feel nostalgic, while visiting places or even cities where one has spent some time in the past and has happy memories about it.

I have a group of school friends, with whom I meet occasionally over a cup of tea. We really do not have much in common except the fact that all of us belonged to middle class and were brought up in a very ordinary life style. Because of this, the discussions tend to be more on nostalgic side; such as about our school, teachers and general life style of people, when we were kids. But just nostalgic talk can not really be a talking point for long, because it has its limits.

With the new social media like WhatsApp, a new trend has developed, wherein people are forming groups such as school friends, college friends and even kindergarten friends. I do not think, I can ever participate in such groups, because really speaking, all the group members are nothing but strangers unless they have maintained contact with each other all along and can find common interests to talk with each other.

This brings us to the real crucial requirement for feeling nostalgic about a period or a place. As I have mentioned above, one has to have happy personal associations with that period or place to feel nostalgic. If these are missing, a person is unlikely to have “good old days” feeling about that place or period. Let me give you an example. I did my graduation in Engineering from the south Indian city of Bengaluru. I stayed in a hostel and have to-date, extremely happy memories of the period and the friends. These memories include the great time spent in cafes on weekend evenings located on Bengaluru Cantonment streets such as M.G.Road and Brigade road. The superb crispy “Masala Dosas” we ate in “Koushy's” along with cups of fabulous filter coffee and even Saturday night late shows of latest Hollywood films.

The memory of those days always makes me feel sad, more so these days, because I lost one of my good friends a month back, with whom I had fabulous time. Recently I tried to analyze, why I feel so nostalgic and nice about my Bengaluru days. The hard realisation was that I always feel nice about that period because academically I was doing exceedingly well in those days, an achievement which I always remember with pride. This really is the base of my euphoric feeling for that period and all other pleasant memories simply get added to that feeling.

As against Bengaluru days, my memories about my stay in Mumbai, where I was working in a company belonging to one of the top industrial houses of India, are not exactly that nostalgic. I was a research and development engineer then. However, things did not go that well right from start, though I never had a failure of any sorts. I was confirmed in my job on schedule and was given a raise when due. Yet the fact remains that I was doing only about average in my job. At a personal level, I had lots of fun no doubt. But today, in hindsight, I can say that I do not have that kind of Nostalgic memories about my Mumbai days, as I have about my Bengaluru days.

Perhaps by now the readers might have guessed, what I am trying to say. For any one, to feel nostalgic about a place or period, he must have done rather well there or then; may be, its the studies or the job or some other work. Having pleasant memories of just having spent some time in cafes or theaters usually is not enough.

These days, few of us, in the same age group, get together for a chat almost every evening. Leaving one or two persons, I have been acquainted with most members of this group very recently. Even then, the discussions tend to be quite interesting on most evenings for one simple reason. We have common interests but no common baggage of any nostalgia, because we have no common past at all. We therefore find it easy to talk on any subject under the sun.

Wikipedia says that although nostalgia is often triggered by negative feelings, it results in increasing one's mood and heightening positive emotions, which can stem from feelings of warmth or coping resulting from nostalgic reflections. Nostalgia also may help increase one's self-esteem and meaning in life by buffering threats to well-being. I do not think this is the whole truth. Some memories may actually exactly do the opposite and may pressurize a person towards a depressing mood.

Nostalgia has its limits! You can not go very far with it. What do you say?

4th May 2015

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