Coronavirus vs nostalgia: Escaping the epidemic on a magic carpet with Nukkad, Ram, Tintin and Tendulkar
The coronavirus lockdown has put us in reverse gear. For a while, we can indulge ourselves with a few wistful glances at the rear-view mirror
A few taps on the tiny triangles, and 22 editions of Tintin hurtled into my phone like the avalanches on his Tibetan adventure. A close friend had sent the pdf versions on WhatsApp without a comment — the way mothers quietly leave a towel and a cup of hot chocolate when you come back wet in the rain.
The e-books are a sweet, sticky slice of nostalgia, to be savoured in the yawning leisure of a lockdown. The past is at a premium in the time of pandemic.
Indians are travelling back to the 1980s and '90s on the dusty, old carpet called Doordarshan, watching Ramayan, Mahabharat, Shaktimaan and Chanakya, asking for Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Nukkad, Humlog and other serials to be dusted out of the archives.
Others are turning to Friends and the 1990s of Spyro video games, audio cassettes and eraser pencils.
So, is there a profound connection between crisis and nostalgia?
Is something deeply unsettling and life-altering like the COVID-19 outbreak trigger regression to happy, distilled memories?
Is watching the finest Sachin Tendulkar or VVS Laxman innings on loop a way to cope with disaster and uncertainly?
Does watching the 1980s Liril ads help mask the smell of fear?
Wake the inner child
"The main purpose of nostalgia is precisely to ensure the continuity of identity in the face of adversity… these stories of nostalgia are vital aspects of maintaining the continuity of the self, or a narrative identity, when much else in life is characterised by discontinuity and uncertainty," researcher Oddgeir Synnes writes in Narratives of Nostalgia in the Face of Death: The importance of lighter stories of the past in palliative care.
Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson is among the earliest and most notable to describe an individual's sense of identity as a continuity of one's past, present and future.
Which probably explains our need to delve into myths, stories and objects from childhood that define us, to make sure catastrophic events or an unpredictable future do not break the thread of our identity.
Because Sachin's straight drive, Kodak's extinct film rolls, 'main samay hoon' opening of Mahabharat, roasted wild boars of Asterix comics and many other living-dead make us what we are.
We chose peripatetic heroes like Lord Ram or Tintin, as Carl Jung explains, because "heroes are usually wanderers, and wandering is a symbol of longing, of the relentless urge which never finds its object".
Future, present, past
The search for this continuity takes TS Eliot to the Bhagavad Gita. In Four Quartets, Eliot writes of nostalgia as "wistful regret" of the future about the present:
I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant —
Among other things — or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
Humans retire into happy pockets from the past to deal with crisis. During the coronavirus lockdown, people also have enough time to ponder whether they have allowed themselves to be slaves to machine pace.
In big cities, even sparkling blue skies and clean air, or leopards, deer and civets unexpectedly sauntering into our space represent something pure and primordial, things from a forgotten past.
Osho's words, however, cut through this sentimentality like cold shards.
"One who goes on looking back cannot live the future. It is as if you are driving your car looking only at the rear-view mirror. You are doomed. Only when you reverse your car, it is okay, use it. Or sometimes somebody is honking his horn from behind, then look — but don’t get obsessed with the rear-view mirror. It may be a beautiful mirror, but please, look ahead. You are driving into the future."
But then, the coronavirus lockdown has put us in reverse gear. For a while, we can indulge ourselves with a few wistful glances at the rear-view mirror.
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