Friday, January 22, 2010

A whiff of nostalgia

Strange, how a certain place grows on us and then goes on to become a part of us, of the intricate web of 'who I am'. Most of the times this gossamer bond is formed due to pleasant people who go on to make sunshine memories. But there have been occasions when the tidings were a little rough. Still, I find myself so much tethered to that place, to its lanes and bylanes, to every one of its facade. A strange sense of sadness and loss overcomes me while leaving a certain place, even if the stay would not have been of such a conclusive duration that would define my emotions. It is not the coming change that worries me, but the leaving behind, the little somethings that I shall no more be able to hold as a part of my everyday life bothers me. There is always some bit of memory or a piece of my surrounding that I cling on to dearly as a remnant, a precious fossil of all these places.
A few days back I stumbled upon a quote by the French poet Anatole France which did help me to understand my predicament to a great extent: "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." And so I yearn for this dead life, one that has long shut its doors on me.

Most of the times I nurse my nostalgia with a characteristic scent of these dead lives. I have read somewhere that this tendency to associate memories with a definitive smell is called associative nostalgia. Isn't it strange how we decide to preserve certain memories in the backstreet of our minds? The world may not care twopence about them, but you do. I remember my childhood in so many ways - the festive air swollen with incense and the latest Hindi film songs during the pujas, the comforting scent of Nivea creme which used to come in a round blue tin box back then, the smell of old, yellowed books in Bapa's room. My inexperienced hostel days in Bhubaneswar take me back to the evening summer breeze that made its way through the windows to my study table where I would be fiddling with the bulk of A History of English Literature, knowing not what to do with the scores of literary heavyweights mentioned in there. Sometimes the graduation days also remind me of the fresh roasted bhutta (corn on the cob) in the rainy evenings or the citrus Elle 18 perfume which I loved to wear to my morning Honours classes. When I remember my days in Hyderabad, the city of love for me, I get a whiff of the old world charm from the ittar vendors along side the bylanes of Charminar. At other times the addictive elaichi chai (cardamom tea) of the university canteen does the trick. It is as if I live and relive these fond moments in these aromas, hence making them immortal and exclusively mine. The mention of Seattle brings back the characteristic dewy, dreamy scent of rain and pines. Our apartment in Redmond, the little Microsoft city neighbouring Seattle, reminds me of freshly mowed grass and a dish washing soap of water lily and jasmine fragrance. The minimal amount of time that we spent in the bay area of California contributes to my nostalgia bank as well. I would often admire the intimidatingly beautiful redwood trees during my solitary evening walks, and later would try to recollect their woody smell.
Jagjit Singh, with his voluminous range of ghazals that perfect such sombre moods has sung the most apt lines on the lingering fragrance of memories:

Shaam mehke tere tassawur se,
Shaam ke baad phir saher mehke...
(The evening is fragrant with your thoughts,
After the evening, the dawn is fragrant as well...)

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