Thursday, 12 April 2012

Memories in Sepia Tones With Glossy Effects

Sir James Matthew Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, once said: “God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.” The mind has its way when it comes to memories. Memories, even the sour ones, which are caustic at first, are bearable as time passes, eventually making them acceptable. Memories are time-machines that can take us to a world long gone, to a world created by our imagination and to one that we long to belong. What divides the harshness of today from the bliss of yesterday, and keeps flickering alive the hope for tomorrow is a rickety old wooden window; a window that creaks at the hinges while pushed open. It leads to an infinity of goodness and mirth. Childhood memories, like the first bicycle ride, college days and the vacations spent in those pristine ancestral homes tucked safely in lush green villages are all experiences cherished. Like precious silverware it is every now and then taken out and polished; the cobwebs of time are dusted; we flirt with it, admire its value and fantasise with its saucy curves. Each time we recall it from the mind’s maze we add more detail to it before carefully placing it back.
The earliest recollection of walking through the paddy fields and coconut groves are invariably seen in sepia tones with a glossy effect. One is always seen walking hand-in-hand with the neighbour’s curly-haired daughter; both admiring the butterflies and listening to the melodious cuckoos. But was it so? Was it really a rosy experience? Were those the thoughts that one had then? The walk in the paddy fields was a misadventure. One had to walk barefoot in ankle-deep stagnant muddy water. Soil mixed with water squeezed up through the toes; the odd sharp twig hurt the feet. It was a tight-rope walk on the ridge; a wrong step and there was the danger of landing in knee-deep dirt. In addition to this was the fear of bloodsucking leeches, tadpoles and snakes. But over the years we have lied to ourselves; we have convinced ourselves that back then things were perfect. Even the little glitches were pleasures that were enjoyed. Nostalgia is a beer-goggle the mind designs to make the present suffering bearable. It is a mirage we create in the deserts we find ourselves in. Given this, it is no surprise that it is mostly people in tough times that have the sweetest memories of the past; people who are content and happy with the present do not generally long for ‘those good ol’ days’. This could be why 19th Century author Josh Billings wrote: “There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory.” So what if it was painful then? What if we slipped and bruised our knees while strolling aimlessly through the coconut groves? The pain was then, it was temporary. Today it is a cherished memory sweetened with a lie we have told ourselves. Those rickety old wooden windows still creak while pushed open. It does not matter what we see; what matters is how we look at it. (This article appeared in The New Indian Express on April 12 2012)