Nostalgia, What Is It?

January 13, 2007
Tanay Behera

Memory does not belong to the past. There is no expanse, in which the past resides, able to be traveled on demand. Recollecting the past is not a return, but an opening in which traces stretch into the present. Particular objects, symbolic and sensuous, encounter us, superimposing a history upon the dormant present. We derive simple delight, in experiencing ourselves as subjects to the autonomy of our own history. Does the diminished past survive irrespective of its apparent ending? A synthesis is born: the distant reverberations of memory gain a resonance through the present body, which experiences it as difference.

The word nostalgia has an interesting origin. Though it had a medical connotation to it, in today's world it's more a yearning and languishing feeling or attitude towards the past. Is nostalgia good? A dicey question. But as per Sanchapanzo , 'nostalgia' provides a fake self-esteem.

Why would someone want to visit 'nostalgia'? I guess 'Nostalgia' is like an easy virtual-meal. You might be hungry and you might want to eat something Now, what is it you can do ? : i. Do some work or sweat and then earn your meal ii. Or visit nostalgia. In 'nostalgia' one has the luxury of gaining a good dosage of ego-boost by just visualising the amount of hard-work you might have done 'once upon a time' and the way you relished the fruits you got through that sweat.

Is 'nostalgia' good ?
Sadly no. What nostalgia provides is a fake self-esteem.

Nostalgia, in fact, may depend precisely on the irrecoverable nature of the past for its emotional impact and appeal. It is the very pastness of the past, its inaccessibility that accounts for a large part of nostalgia's power. This is rarely the past as actually experienced, of course; it is the past as imagined, as idealized through memory and desire. In this sense, however, nostalgia is less about the past than about the present. It is 'memorialized' as past, crystallized into precious moments selected by memory in small dosages. Even an old collection of books and a dusty library can make one walk down the memory lane. Hear it straight from the horse's mouth. Deepti tells it with passion and lovingness here.

The collection was as old as Aaman himself, ranging from kindergarten books with his names scribbled in a childish handwriting to Playboy magazines to Classics to all kinds of books on music, quiz, you name it and it was there. It was such a wonderful collection of books that I was easily dissuaded of my original intentions. I found myself telling the helpers to dust the books and put them in clean piles. I began to put his books in the right order, in categories and found myself enjoying the activity that started off as a chore but then became a pleasurable deed.

The simple, pure, ordered, easy, beautiful, or harmonious past is constructed (and then experienced emotionally) in conjunction with the present, which in turn, is constructed as complicated, perplexed, anarchic, difficult, and confrontational. Nostalgic distancing sanitizes as it selects, making the past feel complete, stable, coherent, safe from the unexpected and the untoward, making it so very unlike the present. The aesthetics of nostalgia might, therefore, be less a matter of simple memory than of complex projection. The invocation of a partial, idealized history merges with dissatisfaction with the present. Rashmi mentions how for her, 10'clock at night was the cut-off deadline to go to bed while the kids of today remain awake till 11 pm in many Indian homes. She ruminates about her bun omlets during her days at IIMA.

When I was in school, I remember 10 o'clock was standard bedtime. 11 o'clock was considered LATE. There was an alarm clock-cum-radio next to my bed and sometimes I'd lie awake till 11.30 - till Vividh Bharati's last transmission - and feel quite cool. Today, kids are routinely awake till 11 pm in many Indian homes. Parents come home late from work, for one. If you leave at 8 am and return at 9 pm - when will your child see you at all, if he sleeps by old English timings?

Often tastes, smells, sounds, and sights conjure up an idealized past. If you are like me (that is, if you are capable of nostalgia), you can think of your own experience. Nearly everyone has experienced a moment when a faint fragrance brings a memory of a long-lost moment in time crashing back to the forefront of his or her mind. It may be the perfume worn by a long-forgotten friend, the stench of petrol from a youth spent worshipping motorcycles or the smell of home-made cookies or cakes freshly taken from the baking oven. It is amazing that a few simple airborne molecules can trigger such vivid recollections as it did in the case of Sujatha. She mentions how the leaves of a book spoke of an exotic past, prized as shadows are divested of the iconographic meanings they once embodied.

The petals had eaten into at least five pages on either side. So we've now lost portions of Europe, England, Russia and Africa.

Childhood memories, for example, represent times when we were free from the responsibilities and anxieties of adulthood, so we may redefine them in an idealised way, even though many of the experiences we went through were difficult at that time. There are, of course, many ways to look backward. You can look and reject but I guess everyone treasures the childhood moments. Or you can look and linger longingly.

In it's looking backward in an yearning way, nostalgia may be more of an attempt to just feel-good, to evade a life of ends and purposes. Now if we sit back and think, we feel that those days were far better than the present life of speed and schedule. Basab felt like walking down memory lane when he visited his primary Campus School at Hisar after more than 20 years. He says spontaneously straight from the heart,

Within hours of our arrival in Hisar, we went to see our old school. I didn't know what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The school was in ruins. Every spot that held a cherished memory of my childhood was now overgrown with weeds or in complete disrepair. It looked like something that was at the end of its natural life and should be put out of its misery. But in reality, the school had more than five times the number of students it had when I was there!

Few days back, I had been home and it was really nice to see my old room still bearing my books. The minute I entered my room, which is maintained as it was since I left it 8 years ago by my maa for my graduation studies. There were certain spaces that reminded me of how simple and humble my yesteryears were. The bookrack still holds in stacks my entire collection of Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Amar Chitra Katha, Chacha Chaudhury series, Tinkle and Tintin comic series. My Tell Me Why, National Geography Magazine series and Britannia Encyclopedia set still adorn the old bookshelf apart from my entire accumulation of novels and technical books.

The darling of my room, an old gramophone sits there, though covered with a thin layer of dust. I even found my old Periodic Table of chemical elements and that reminded me of the All India Engineering Entrance Test preparation days, the years when my books from Brilliant Tutorials and FIIT JEE were worshipped like Bible and Gita. Also cleaned all my paintings and arranged those neatly, the oil-paintings were bathed with turpentine to get back the freshness, the water color ones were left just like that.

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This was my first portrait (oil-painting) on canvas.

These were my attempt in watercolors of the landscapes. I still remember on weekends, how I used to bi-cycle and go to some nearby places and try to make an attempt to capture the scenery.
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I was not very good initially but used to try my hand at it, wth a never-give-up attitude in the end something used to come out, though not that great. I have a huge bank of my paintings and someday, if I manage to do something with those, will definitely render them their due respect. Now I have lost complete touch with my little bit of painting and drawing skills, though end up doing some caricatures in my note-book during the training sessions if I find them boring.

In fact, a number of industries and services depend on their customers feelings of nostalgia and longing. Toy companies routinely bring back favorite childhood toys, while television production companies re-issue older titles to tap into the viewers' sense of nostalgia. The popularity of collectibles stores also points to the commercial value of nostalgia. I know about this site for quite sometime and have ordered few items from here through my elder brother settled in the US. It is known as the Nostalgia Ventures , a must site to add to your Archie Cartoons collection.

Nostalgia begets innovative way of doing business, isn't it? Amazingly simple yet profit churning business plan.The concept of online business for antique paintings and goods is showing positive growth in India and I feel it has a good future.

To cite a simple example of how media and entertainment industry uses nostalgia as a popular recipe for business. While reading the daily newspaper, a few days back there was a front-page picture of Kareena and Helen.

What was that for?

In the recently held, Hero Honda Star Screen Awards, while actress Kareena Kapoor swung to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's version of "Yeh mera dil" from Don, the original bomb Helen joined her on stage to show how things were done in her time. Now you decide whose performance was more glitzy, glamoured and groovy.

Some people are so moved by longing that it becomes the driving force of their expression. I often feel in a way, longing is what makes art possible. By "longing" I mean the emotional response to deprivation, loss, and mourning, though in optimal dosages. Nostalgia has, in this way, been deemed the necessary inspirational "creative sorrow" for artists and writers. My best friend in college, Kutti conveys his message here. Also I read a nice poem on nostalgia.

Those were the good old days, Which were cute and rare always. Lost forever in memories, With its ashes borne close to my heart.

I feel nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort but too much nostalgia can have a negative effect. It is very common to believe that an earlier decade was preferable to present day conditions, but that viewpoint can be misleading. Every decade has its positive and negative aspects, so an unrealistic sense of nostalgia may create an unhealthy distortion of reality. As an example, this time when I was home, my father gave me his Omega watch, which he had purchased in Germany when he was there for long, way back in 1980's with the steel makers Krupp and Demag. He wanted me to get the same repaired, which he has been using for the last 26+ years now (myself and the watch share a similarity: age, so I can see my past-life thorough it, aren't I?). if possible in Bangalore or during my trips to Europe.

Repeated instructions from friends and family members to discard that watch have not influenced him ever as he is of the opinion that only Omega manufactures classy watches. It's not that he is not aware of the other global brands in wristwatches, it's that he doesn't want to chuck out his old piece. But to be frank as much as he is passionate about it, so am I.

Even the sights of cities, generally while seeing the black and white photographs, reminds one of the good old days of the yore. See here how some one feels about Bangalore as it was six decades ago, literally the pensioner's paradise, and the garden city. The city where you did not require switching on the ceiling fan even in peak summer. My friend, Ra gets emotional about his connection with Chennai.

The life is so cute there, people get up early in the morning, start watering the pavement in front of their house and do a small rangoli (out of rice flour) at 5AM. We can hear some religious songs, "Suprabathams!!, Mahishasuramardhini!! " out of small 2-in-1 players in the houses !!!! .

Even when it comes to cities, towns and roads however shabby or chic they may be, we love it the way we have seen it for ages. My blogroll friend Gaurav was not happy with the changes he saw on returning to his city, Pune after a short duration of 4 months. That's the power of nostalgia.

My take,life main thoda nostalgia mangta re:

The emotional appeal of happy memories does not depend on disparagement of the present, the hallmark of the nostalgic attitude. Nostalgia appeals to the feeling that the past offered delights no longer obtainable. Nostalgic representations of the past evoke a time irretrievably lost and for that reason timeless and unchanging. Strictly speaking, nostalgia does not entail the exercise of memory at all, since the past it idealizes stands outside time, frozen in perfection. It draws hope and comfort from the past in order to enrich the present and to face what comes with good cheer. It sees past, present, and future as continuous. Like I was this person as in the name (from my old painting, my designer signature then) below, and with time grew up (handwriting changed) and still life goes on (now it's more of fingers on the laptop keyboard).
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So I guess a dollop of nostalgia adds a bit of spice to the scheduled life. Do you agree with me? But the ghazal maestro, Jagjit Singh is in incongruous with my viewpoint rendered through his ethereal voice in a song.

ye daulat bhii le lo, ye shoharat bhii le lo bhale chhiin lo mujhase merii javaanii magar mujhako lautaa do bachapan kaa saavan vo kaagaz kii kashtii, vo baarish kaa paanii

To walk down the memory lane,watch this video. Don't miss it.

Guess where was/is this? Also will edit a video of my college life and that will come soon, watch out for the same. Patience.

It is interesting to learn that every human being loves to cuddle and nestle him/her self in the serene and pure nostalgic moments in their own way.

Tanay, a simple person. Has four simple needs in life: to read lots, to meet lots of people, talk and interact, to have his laptop connection in place always, to travel anywhere and everywhere.Wants to work for United Nations soon. You can read my blogs here .
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January 13, 2007
02:12 PM

mahajirzadeh's fourth law of indulgence (that can be applied to nostalgia also)

the rate of indulgence is directly proportional to faltoo time


January 13, 2007
06:20 PM

good one T :)

Also what are the other three laws of indulgence by Mahajirzadeh.

A request,Can T,the bard draft something on nostalgia with his words soon...But note that the fourth law of indulgence doesn't apply here,hehehe :) As in science,so in real(not reel) life there are exceptions :)

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