Thursday, 28 October 2010

With nostalgia

Suddenly you are missing Bethnal Green Road. The salwar-suit shops, the off license 24-hour grocery stores, the English Premier League odds scribbled in chalk marking what kind of a reception which team will get tonight from the dedicated fans, the half kilo bhindi and everything else. Imagine!

What could induce this acute sense of nostalgia, you ask. A slice of bad pizza, a conversation on the ‘poor PR’ being done by the guys behind UID, and the general sense of moroseness that descends when one is trapped in a shopping mall that is trying to be Oxford Street, London or Soho, New York anything but Pushp Vihar, Saket. Possibly. Or maybe it is the passing reference to graffiti in East London that someone mentions reading about in the inflight magazine as the plane soared to 30,000 feet.

And so, while the drinks are being sipped and the forks pick an indifferently diced cucumber now and a mercilessly torn rocket leaf then. The mind has already passed the Regent’s canal, has crossed the tube station and is walking straight down Bethnal Green Road towards Brick Lane. No, not the Brick Lane of the novel, or of the film based on the novel. More like Brick Lane of the Saturday nights- of the impossibly asymmetrical hairstyles, people spilling onto the pavement along with their drinks, the music, the organic food, the vintage cloth stores and yes, even the graffiti. Ok also, Brick Lane of the daytime where a slice of 1980’s India is preserved in the form of brass decoration vases, Manipuri and Bhangra dance dolls, the smell of rose incense and Mohammad Rafi (or Mohammad Aziz) songs blaring from what one hopes are Phillip cassette players. Where one goes to in the futile search for the “perfect” curry. That mythical thing every Londoner can almost taste but not quite grasp.

All this is nostalgic now! You might argue: It's never safe to be nostalgic about something until you're absolutely certain there's no chance of its coming back.* And one might say: Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.** Why should nostalgia always be equated with longing, when sometimes it is merely reminiscence; a pleasing reflection, a fond evocation? Something that gently lifts you up. You may end up hanging in a limbo but admit it- isn’t the view great?

*Bill Vaughn
**Robert Morgan

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