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Home » THE WEIGHT OF NOSTALGIA!

THE WEIGHT OF NOSTALGIA!

by P.S. Wasu
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Nostalgia Painting
Nostalgia can positively impact mental well-being. Memories transport us to places where we felt safe and loved, offering solace from present anxieties.

During my time in Chandigarh in the early 1970s, ​​one day, I was in a contemplative state of mind. My mind was full of the philosophical book I had finished the previous day. As I was roaming in Sector 17, the central hub of the capital city of Punjab state, my feet took me reflexively towards a beer bar.

Sitting all by myself over a bottle of beer amidst the bustling ambiance of the place, I felt relaxed and far removed from the hassles of the world. Even though the place was noisy, the noise didn’t disturb me simply because it didn’t concern me. As I savored my solitude and the feelings of contentment, someone beckoned from the adjoining table. 

“I beg your pardon. I was just wondering if I could join you at your table.” With these words, he brought his glass and settled across from me, grinning and surveying the place, his beard shaking with his movements. 

“I retired from the Central Government service a few months ago. I am fond of beer, and I come here often, always looking for the company of a fellow beer enthusiast. One can see from your looks that you are a gentleman. I am sure we can be great friends. You see, I have such a sure eye for the right person.”

What a farcical encounter it was! I was here seeking solitude, and this garrulous guy was seeking companionship! I mumbled in response that I was not a gentleman. Nor did I wish to be taken for one. But he did not seem to take notice of what I said. 

He looked at me straight. “Your way of holding the glass reminds me of the time when I had my first beer. It was forty years ago. I was traveling from Lahore to Bombay by the Frontier Mail. It was somewhere near Mathura that I went to the dining car. I saw that everyone was bent over their beer alone or in groups. I also ordered beer. I sipped slowly. Even today, I remember those tipsy sensations. A cool breeze blew from the windows. I sat enveloped in a haze of bliss. I can never forget that train journey. It is sort of transfixed in my mind.”

He rubbed his palms together and looked at his glass long and lingeringly. “There is one more thing that I would like to share with you. That day, I was wearing a new suit I had tried on only two days before at a Lahore shop. You will be surprised to know that that suit is still with me and I wear it sometimes even now. It is with the dry cleaners at the moment, or I might be having it on today.”

He paused and looked for a glint in my eyes. Then he felt something in his pocket and fished out a piece of paper. It was the slip issued by the dry cleaners. He held it before my eyes and waved it as if it were the suit itself. “Tomorrow, I will collect my suit.”

His anecdotes continued. He rambled on, seamlessly transitioning from one memory to the next. As my beer dwindled, I got up. I said I had to go. He looked disappointed. But there was nothing I could do for him. And in a perverse moment, that is precisely what I told him. After all, he had spoiled my evening. Aghast, he looked on foolishly as I left.

A few weeks later, I was in a coffee house, sitting all by myself, savoring my solitude. Someone approached my table and began, “I beg your pardon…”

Then, just then, our eyes met. A flicker of recognition, and he stopped short. With a sudden realization, he swiftly made for the exit, leaving me pondering.

But sure, sure enough, he had his favorite suit on, affectionately preserved even though worn and faded. It was then that I understood. What he had on was not just an old suit but a relic of a life left behind in Lahore, the city of his youth in Pakistan, a life now tenderly locked away within his memory. For a moment, I regretted having put him off when our first encounter happened, but it was too late for me to do anything about it.

In this chance encounter, I glimpsed the hunger for companionship, the weight of nostalgia, and the significance of the past carried by a stranger in unexpected ways.

Somewhere at the back of my mind, an old refrain echoed, “guzra hua zamana ata nahin dobara” (the bygone world never comes back), encapsulating the poignant essence of irretrievable moments.

In my youth I would come across old men, seasoned by the vicissitudes of life, gathering to reminisce about days long past, finding solace and camaraderie in each other’s company. They shared heartwarming anecdotes and hilarious escapades.

GREEN SHRUBS AND WHITE BEARDS

While Chandigarh exuded its own unique charm, sceptics, particularly those accustomed to the hustle and bustle of cities like Delhi or Bombay, often perceived it as a tranquil backwater—a haven for retirees. The abundance of greenery in the city – built to act as the capital of Punjab after India’s partition — led to the local saying encapsulating its essence: ‘Saavian jhaadhian te chittian daadhian,’ meaning ‘green shrubs and white beards!’ Indeed, one couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of elderly gentlemen with flowing white beards amidst lush greenery.

Sukhna Lake was a favorite haunt for groups of retirees, who could be seen taking strolls on the curvilinear promenade along its banks in the mornings and evenings. They also congregated in various parks, engaging in animated conversations. Passing by them, I often overheard snatches of their conversations. Their discussions almost invariably revolved around Lahore, the city of their youth.

These men, seasoned by the vicissitudes of life, gathered to reminisce about days long past, finding solace and camaraderie in each other’s company. They shared heartwarming anecdotes and hilarious escapades. They recalled their days of youth, filled with endless adventures and youthful bravado, as well as the trials and triumphs that had shaped their lives. They shared stories of childhood mischief, laughing uproariously at the antics of their younger selves. 

Amidst laughter and banter, there was also a sense of reflection as they spoke of the challenges they had surmounted, the losses they had endured, and the wisdom they had gleaned along the way.

Their conversations frequently drifted to their alma maters in Lahore. Government College and Forman Christian College were the ones mentioned most. One could sometimes also hear of Gordon College, Rawalpindi.

Many of these guys talked fondly about some Bollywood biggies having been their classmates or pals in Lahore. The names mentioned most in this context were Dev Anand, Chetan Anand, Balraj Sahni, BR Chopra, and Sahir Ludhianvi. Some had also personally known the writer Khushwant Singh and the scientist Har Gobind Khurana. Anarkali Bazar of Lahore was mentioned as the ultimate shopping destination, stirring memories of cherished shopping excursions.

I often bumped into one retired individual, Manohar Singh, who lived in our neighborhood. What started as a nodding acquaintance gradually developed into a low-key intergenerational friendship—he in his sixties, and I in my twenties. One day, I saw him sitting on the parapet along the lakeside. He beckoned me to join him. As we conversed, he told me how the world had changed over the last few decades.

Out of curiosity, I asked him what was so compelling about Lahore that oldies from there never tired of eulogizing it. In answer to my question, he just quoted a famous saying about Lahore: “Jis Lahore Nai Vekhya O Jamyai Nai.” (One who has not seen Lahore has not lived). He gestured to the effect that nothing more need be said. 

Aah, these ‘white beards’ and their idée fixe with Lahore! How they were flooded with nostalgia for their magical youth in Lahore they could no longer go back to!

Upon reflection, nostalgia has a calming effect and can positively impact mental well-being. Memories transport us to places where we felt safe and loved, offering solace from present anxieties. They foster a sense of belonging and rootedness, bolstering self-esteem and emotional stability.

The above article is an extract from P.S. Wasu’s work-in-progress, ‘Wisdom of Being Flawed and Fragmented: Random Reminiscences’.

Lead visual courtesy Kim Pennell/Guardian Witness.

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