What the Instagram generation doesn't get about nostalgia
The jury is out on whether the current generation will hold on to memories or flush them down the chute of sentimental sludge.
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This summer, I got to spend over a month at my parents’ farmhouse located in Clement Town, Dehra Dun. When I look back, I have not been at “home” for this long since 1990 when I left Doon for higher studies at JNU.
For the first time in 27 years, I was not making a flying visit; but was actually going to be staying in the house I grew up, became a teen and a young adult in.
There are memories and memorabilia stowed away in every corner of the big house, as also in nooks of the front lawns from where, once, we could spot the Mussoorie hills and tell whether it had snowed or not. The back, orchard-like garden boasts some trees as old as I that have moments from my early life embedded in their burrows and age lines.
Even now, in Doon, time passes far more languidly than in metros. But in Clement Town - home to an Army Cantonment, handful of fast disappearing British-period houses jostling amidst the scramble of new construction, couple of manmade lakes and bordered by the jungles of Rajaji National Park on one side - time passes even more slowly; sometimes excruciatingly, other times soothingly.
The current crop will record but not keep. They will save a moment only to erase and save a new one over it. Photo: PTI
With the luxury of time on my hand, I went through what was stored around the house with a fine tooth comb. There was no reason to hurry, no schedule to keep or appointments to meet; so I went about opening floodgates of memory and unlocking reminders of a life spent in another time.
With the sister-in-law and Jai Singh – the Jeeves as aides, I went about climbing step ladders to peep into the upper reaches of shelves in my mother’s kitchen store, the yesteryear avatar of the modern day pantry. I walked into her box room and opened the lined up, clanking Godrej almirahs.
Next day and the next and the day after, I was at it like a woman possessed. After almost 20 years, I braved myself into the heavily cob-webbed old staff lodgings and soft-footed into the tin-roofed, unlit interiors of the new servant quarters. I got the garden room aired and dusted, looking forlornly at things that had once been lived in but now lay derelict.
Cutters for gujiyas and namkeen and shakkar paras when Holi sweets were still made at home over days...down the memory lane.
On day five, there were more areas to be looked at. I rummaged through the grimy racks in the old study and did a swift step-in-and-out of the little kitchenette off the garage room to see if there was anything worth reckoning stuffed in there.
Next, I unlocked the giant cupboard in my bedroom, heaved up the heavy lids of huge trunks and peered into box beds. There lay a handful of oriental objets d’art, a Madhubani painting presented to Dad on one of his promotions, a pair of Wedgwood vases gifted to us by our Australian author friend, silver candelabras, finely cut glass bowls from Soga to Villeroy & Boch, souvenirs from Murano, a silver tea set that Ma used to pullout only on special occasions and an irresistibly breathtaking brass tea set shaped like a Vintage car with two smaller cars for milk and sugar.
Such beauty, such relics of a well-lived past and artefacts evoking pride in the sensibilities and style of parents who have left life lessons behind and are now perhaps leading a similar life, beyond the pearly gates!
Cleaning of crockery cabinets that pre-date me was a dusty yet delicious task. Victorian dinner sets, soup plates with rotund bellies and flat periphery, gold-rimmed tea cups with beautifully etched spring flowers on white China, plates with vertical grooves on the banks to serve mash potatoes in, boat-shaped bowls with handles for gravy to go with roast meats, cutters for gujiyas and namkeen and shakkar paras when Holi sweets were still made at home over days, a leather silk-lined box to hold precious cutlery that still held on to its sheen – I took a trip down the memory lane and relived moments from my childhood that had glowed in my parents’ light and grew in the warmth of their love.
I have my set of tasks cut out for a projected length of time in the near future. There is that walnut-wood cane sofa set to be restored, more than 50-year-old dining chairs with their fine cane work to be sturdied, brass ware and silver ware to be buffed and polished. There are old Banarsis and Jamawars and south silks to be revived, not for reuse but just for holding on to; for they once draped Ma’s petite yet awe-inspiring frame.
There are old Banarsis and Jamawars and south silks to be revived, not for reuse but just for holding on to; for they once draped Ma’s petite yet awe-inspiring frame. Photo: Tilfi
Right now, all black-and-white negatives are being printed into six-by-eight prints before the technique is mercilessly crucified on the cross of technology. Already, we had to spend time scouting for a studio that could develop our rolls; their numbers are fast dwindling, being ruthlessly killed by the touch-click-retouch-post-delete Instagram generation of fast pacers who have no time for any schmaltz or sentimentality.
Old notes and letters, felicitation rolls, certificates of distinction in engineering from colleges in Rasul, part of Punjab now in Pakistan and orders of affiliations from the Grand Masonic Lodge of England – all have been laminated and filed in neat folders with the hope that they last at least through my life time. These memory books, though fat and bulky, will bring succour to my heart and keep my soul afloat.
I am a hoarder by nature. Firstly, I get attached to things and keep them in files marked "forever". An incorrigible childhood habit, I am impartial to everything from paper cuttings to greeting cards to painted stones to my own lock of hair from my first ritualistic hair shave.
Back in the day, dad’s old Vanguard was seen as a tired, past its best-by date jalopy. Photo: Representational/Pinterest
Secondly, having lost most of my loved ones in the eternal duel between life and death – from parents to soul-sisters to fur children – a part of my mind and heart has this dire need to cling to things from the past as a way to resurrect, at least in memory, those I have lost.
I kick myself for selling the 60-year old Allwyn fridge that still cooled things and even made ice. Allwyn, the company failed to respond to my notes to them about our miracle gadget and soon after shut shop; so, that path dried up fast. Could I have reworked on its interiors and held on to it, I wondered!
Back in the day, dad’s old sky-blue Vanguard was seen as a tired, past its best-by date jalopy. In 1975, with not enough means and resources to get it transported to Dehra Dun and for earning a princely sum of Rs 1,700, my mother sold the car off in British Army Base in Native Asia (BABINA), dad’s last posting before he left us for the other world.
Today, I rue the car’s loss and in a mood of creative frenzy feel that I could have refurbished the old car, turning it into a quaint sit-out area in my parents’ vast gardens.
It seems, I am not alone in my pursuit to recollect, revive and rehabilitate the old times and forgotten treasures, and intertwine them fondly into the fabric of our current lives.
As a silver lining, there is the increasing tribe of revivalists and restorers, curators and custodians of culture, keepers of the society’s soul and guardians of our collective consciousness. Anusha Yadav, a Facebook friend, has started the memory project and is busy archiving personal memories of people.
Then there is Brandon Stanton who founded the Humans of New York movement, with clones taking birth in other parts of the world. Shobha Deepak Singh has been restoring heirlooms and rich handlooms of the past for a while now.
It seems, I am not alone in my pursuit to recollect, revive and rehabilitate the old times and forgotten treasures. Photo: by La Frances Hui
There are Dastangois we are beginning to get invited to; just as poetry recitals and Mushairas and Phagun musical baithaks are being brought back with a flourish.
Despite a handful of such brilliant sparks, the jury is out on whether the current generation will hold on to nostalgia or flush it down the chute of sentimental sludge.
My 34-year-old niece and the beneficiary of my legacy, has already been making plans to put up my saris and bags and shoes and books collection for auction and donation, should I kick the bucket before I have worn the stuff out.
It is an astonishingly dichotomous life the centennials lead. They wish to record every waking moment of their lives – from what they wear to what and where they eat, where they go partying, where they hang out or where and how they shimmy their practised hustle; and broadcast them on self-styled YouTube documentaries.
The current crop will record but not keep. They will save a moment only to erase and save a new one over it.
My contention is that iGen will go through a rigorous churning; but will wake up to the fact that memories are therapeutic, recollections bring respite and old baggage will always be the divine balm to a harried and hassled soul!