Nostalgia – its delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.Don Draper
At one point in time, my only sole worry before leaving for school was to catch up on my daily 20- minutes’ worth meeting with the famous cat and mouse duo – Tom and Jerry! Every morning, a regular prayer ritual and a quick news catchup via the papers left me exactly the time the Cartoon Network of the 90s and early 2000s telecasted the new episodes of the Tom and Jerry show for. Amma would get me a bowl of cereal, or idlis or sandwiches that I’d munch on without a second look at my plate, sitting on Appa’s lap and watching and laughing and choking over my food. Appa and I bonded greatly while watching this series. He’d mimic voices of the characters and with a perpetual running commentary from him, it would set the ‘happy tone’ for the rest of my day. I never had a lot of vices as a child, but a compulsive need to watch this show was probably one amongst the few. A simpler version of David and Goliath, Tom and Jerry series ruled the hearts of millions around the world, for kids our generation – it was a respite from the real world problems (which were limited to solving our mathematics assignments and getting through exams at the max). The dialogue-less series, filled with the chaos and commotion of the cat and mouse running around all over the place, setting not-so-subtle contraptions for each other and occasionally forming a team to avoid getting thrown out of their abodes, has brought up four consecutive generations’ kids and effectively imprinted on their minds at an early age. When the makers of the latest Tom and Jerry movie dropped its trailer, I had my heart in my mouth before I pressed the play button, the sheer joy of witnessing my best friends (from an age where it made sense to call them so) on the screen again, with a new twist to their cat and mouse game, I couldn’t have possibly been more delighted. Well, for a distantly objective person, one wouldn’t understand why a movie that was riding solely on pulling in audiences based on nostalgia, would evoke such an emotion. But nostalgia has no rationality to it. The instant I witness a clip from the old Tom and Jerry days, I become a six year old, sitting on my father’s lap in the living room of our two bedroom house, holding a cup of coffee or eating hot idlis, with my mother tying my shoe laces and fixing my skirt and tie, and with me wishing for nothing but for the episode to go on and on and on.
Recently, when I spent an evening watching the latest Tom and Jerry movie, it just hit me that (in my opinion) even though I thought the usual antics of Tom and Jerry were heart-warming and the movie also included some iconic scenes from the original television series, as a movie, across the board – it lacked in working with a core narrative, screenplay, cinematography, screenwriting and concept development. The feud between the two lead characters is admittedly forgettable and the director hasn’t spent enough time exploring this classic rivalry that created a timeless legacy for this duo. Inspite of the many faults of the movie, I was unable to move an inch away the screen. It represented to me a whole lot in terms of emotions, elements of my relationship with my father (we bonded greatly over board games and cartoons), and of a time – the feelings of which I’d give anything to relive.
As humans, and one would only be foolish to not admit to it, we all have our days where we feel absolutely worthless, or days where we feel lonely despite being surrounded with friends and family, days where boredom reaches to an extent that even the process of thinking about things seems cumbersome, days where we introspect, retrospect and doubt our life choices, question our very many personal or professional options, when the past looms like a dark cloud over our head. Not one to live in the past, but I definitely have had days where I have been through the above mentioned cycle. Fond memories of objects like one’s teddy bears or snuggly pillows or blankets that one always carried around everywhere, stories that my mother would read to me, various competitions that I won over the years of school, the beautiful memories I built with my friends in the last couple of years, the many late-night parties and meet-ups we had at music-filled restaurants, the late night football matches I used to watch with my father – all fill me with an immense sense of gratification for all the wonderful things I have been able to experience in my life despite all the actual and self-perceived hurdles.
Now, this magic blanket of nostalgia that wraps itself about us, an intangible entity, like fragrance, is time and again chided as a virtue that is the least authentic, a seductive liar that pulls us into the folds of negativity, something that has no purpose other than serving as a vice for the aged.
Contrary to what one says or thinks about drowning oneself in the waves sweet memories of the past, I for one, am a staunch advocate of the right to wish to go back in time, in life, where some striking moments made you the person you are today, moments where you took life-altering decisions, perhaps a song that you heard for the first time at a place with which you now associate it with, a whiff of a fragrance, for me that’d be about twenty years’ worth memory of waking up to the smell of a fresh coffee decoction prepared by my mother, something that I imagine waking up to every now and then. No mater how it comes to you, the feeling of being at a place, of hearing a song, of looking at pictures of people from a time long gone-by, the bitter-sweet taste of moments never leave you. It’s your heart’s way of reminding you of things that you once loved. Yes, definitely this feeling, at least for me, is accompanied or is sometimes driven by the fear of uncertainty in the future, absence of non-materialistic purpose in life, inability to lay out coherent plans for the future. But it is always a healthy mix. If I don’t read a book for weeks together and come across titles lying around the house, I quickly recall some wonderful books that made me a part of the characters’ journeys, and will soon thereafter make an effort and proceed to pick up a book again and resume a streak of reading.
Of course this is an example of the simplest forms and I do realise and acknowledge that people have far more concerning aspects of life than choosing the next book to read. So, to cut short, my point is as long as you don’t lose yourself in memories where you completely overlook failures or negative experiences, or come out of the remembrance sphere with a constant gnawing dissatisfaction where fond memories lead you to believe that you can never experience that phase in your life ever again, nostalgia as a concept can be quite useful. One needs to use it as an intelligent tool, to rejuvenate oneself and to encourage oneself from falling into familiar traps from past mistakes. It is no doubt a double-edged sword, one that can either polish off the rough edges off your present or one that can lead you into depths of despair and a cycle of never-ending craving.
Here is an unbelievably good presentation on the theory of nostalgia and probably one of Johnny Harris’s finest piece published as a part of his YouTube portfolio.
Remembrance restores possibility to the past, making what happened incomplete and completing what never was. Remembrance is neither what happened nor what did not happen but, rather, their potentialization, their becoming possible once again.Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy