The Present is just a moment – a fleeting moment; whereas the Past is an accumulation of memories. Our memories are based on personal experiences and hence they are dear to us. We, therefore, idealize the past and yearn for it. This is called Nostalgia, a word derived from the Greek νόστος (nóstos), meaning ‘homecoming, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning ‘pain, ache’. Just like Depression, Nostalgia was, at one time, thought of as a psychiatric condition, a form of melancholy. It is only in the early Modern Era that the word got associated with yearning for the ‘good old days‘.
We have nostalgia concerning all our five senses of Hearing, Seeing, Smelling, Touching and Tasting. We are, therefore, nostalgic about, for example, old songs, sepia coloured pictures especially of our childhood, smell of crayons in our first classroom, the touch of our mother’s hand as she guided us through the busy city streets and the taste of our tiffins carrying lunch that we used to savour sitting under a tree next to the playground.
Are there any scientific studies done on Nostalgia? Yes, there are but not enough. Scientists feel that the recall of our memory about something gives a stimulus to amygdala or that part of the brain that gives us emotions. The trigger for Nostalgia is something from the past. Our emotions about the past can be happy or sad. However, in the present context, Nostalgia is generally about happy memories of the days gone by.
What exactly is Nostalgia broken down to its commonest sense? It is a fact that we do like the present when it becomes past. There is a good one about a mother telling her son who was making fuss about eating what she’d cooked, “Eat it. Years later you’d be telling another woman how good your mother cooked.”
As long as we are aware that we like all Nostalgia about a miserable present until it becomes past, we shall be happy with that old gramophone we struggled with and which still gave screechy sound in comparison to crystal clear digital sound of today.
|Pic courtesy: ucl.ac.uk|
In our minds, we should go back to those exact times that we are nostalgic about and see if we really liked them at that time. A friend of mine put up a facebook post about the era of the postman and nostalgically reminisced about the postman visiting us leisurely and reading to us our letters and delivering money orders. Others have written about walking to the school (there were no buses those days) and breathing in the invigorating air. It is yet another thing that we hated being chased by the street dogs and hated walking in the scorching sun but the filter of Nostalgia leaves out the bad memories. But I guess if we don’t have nostalgia we can say bye bye to about 50 percent writing in the world; including this one.
There is, therefore, romanticism about Nostalgia. For example, this Kishore Kumar song from the 1964 movie ‘Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein’ (Far Under The Sky):
Albele din pyaare, mere bichhade saathi saareHaay! Kahaan gaye, haay! kahaan gaye(Wonderful lovely days, all my friends I parted from
Oh, where are they now)
Koi lauta de mere beete hue din,
Beete hue din vo hai pyaare pal chhin.
(Someone, return to me my past,
My past, those dear moments)
Main akela to na tha, the mere saath kayi,
Ek aandhi si udhi, jo bhi tha leke gayi
Aaj main dhoondu kahan, kho gaye jaane kidhar
(I wasn’t alone, many were with me
A storm came, what was there it took away
Today, where should I search for those that were lost)
Beete hue din…
Mere khvabon ke nagar, mare sapno ke shehar,
Pee liya jinake liye, maine jeevan ka zehar.
Aise bhi din the kabhi, meri duniya thi meri.
(The towns of my dreams, the cities of my imagination
For them only I drank the poison of life
Those were the days, when my world was my own)
Beete hue din…
And for those who’d prefer to hear this thought in English, here is Mary Hopkins singing ‘Those Were The Days’:
Finally, the Moral of the Story: Treasure every moment when you have it rather than when it is gone.
In short when you get a tooth pulled out you miss the slow pain it used to cause and your tongue goes to the exact spot nostalgically. However, you should relish the moment at the dentist’s chair too.
God, I am becoming a Saint in my old age. Let me love it now rather than later when everyone has finished hating me for writing this post. One of my friends feels that the word ‘Nostalgia’ gives a feel as if it is a nose-related problem. In which case, one can imagine a doctor prescribing a tablet like DCold to have with warm water twice a day after meals. Sounds far fetched? Think again: the other day a drug called scopolamine was in the news. If the powder is blown into your face you have an instant loss of memory and are immediately cured of Nostalgia. Perhaps later scientists will discover a drug whose powder, when blown into our faces will convert all our bad, sad, horrible and unpleasant memories into ‘good old days’.
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