The lure of going back in time

The lure of going back in time

Ever had that 60’s Blues make you sob? That aftershave of your first date rekindle long-lost romance? The kindergarten porridge take you back to childhood? Krishnaraj Iyengar dwells on the associative magic of nostalgia.

The froth on the turquoise Atlantic waves appeared like a bride’s veil, the seagulls cackled in rhythm to their washing the rocks. 90 year-old Paudy Mcveigh gracefully tangoed with his beloved Sarah, as their grandson played a jig on the button accordion, the couple received as a wedding gift.

To celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, the couple flew-in all the way from Australia to relive the magical moments in the same old Irish pub in Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland – where they first met, where he proposed and where they decided to tie the knot! The jig was originally composed by Paudy’s father-in-law – and that too, spontaneously – during the wedding!

In life’s drama of impermanence, a moment that passes by cannot really be regained. If it weren’t for the fascinating world of nostalgia, how could we ever relive those beautiful, sometimes life-changing, moments? It is a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, smells and sights, each playing their role in bringing back memories on the theatre screen of human consciousness.

Nostalgia has the unique ability to revive many of life’s events through mediums like music, fragrances, foods and sounds that seem to remarkably preserve their energies in their entirety. When we reencounter that song we heard on the first day of college, a perfume we wore on our first date, a food cooked by someone close to our hearts, the associated memories emerge in a flash, faster than the speed of light! Irrespective of our temperaments, habits, preferences, nationalities or occupations, the human mind has the ability to store memories and also the cues that revive them.

“This number (Entebbe Wala by Philly Lutaaya) almost makes me cry! It talks about leaving home and living far away. It makes me miss my hometown Entebbe. I find my body going away, but my heart left behind, still in the land,” confesses Sarah Ndagire, Uganda’s iconic songstress, who currently lives in England.

Musicians, poets, painters and writers are known to be more sensitive to the power of association and nostalgia. 

However, the charm is irresistible to all. “Peek-a-boo by Siouxie and the Banshees always pulls me back to a magical summer of my youth. I was 16, stupid and awkward. But that band made the summer nights a little more tolerable,” reminisces James Campbell, a medical professional, who grew up in sunny California. 

While miscellaneous stimuli like a film (Nagesh Kukunoor’s Rockford) reminds industrialist Prashant Bagga of school days, teenage life and growing up, Zereshk Polo (Persia’s famous rice preparation) takes Iranian chef Afshin Kohinoor back to his homeland.

Association often happens when a stimulus occurs for the first time during a first-time event. A new song heard before visiting a new destination, a new fragrance before a new date. However, a perfume one might have used over a period of time might land up becoming a strong catalyst to association if worn during a particular visit to a new place or meeting a new person, especially if worn throughout the length of the event. 

“We have the capacity to store information with regard to different scents and smells in the olfactory area within the brain, which can produce a variety of emotions based on the experiences associated with the fragrance,” says Fiona Caroline, manager – education at Yves Saint Laurent Beaute, shedding some light on the age-old chemistry of scents and the senses. The exoticism of spicy fragrances takes Fiona back to Kuwait, her birthplace.Fragrances in their homely avatars can warm the heart, too.

 “Even a whiff of incense sticks permeating the air takes me back home! Early in the morning, it would tell me that mum was awake and dad had begun his morning prayers. In a flash, I am transported thousands of miles away!” says Dr Karishma Mukherjee, who is now based in Chicago.

But, how exactly does this happen? 

Circuits or engrams are created in the brain that store events as memories, explains psychotherapist Dr Girish Patel. Associative memory is strongly enhanced by something strongly appreciated during the event. “There was a lady who would have severe asthma attacks in the presence of roses.

Once during a psychotherapist’s appointment, on seeing a rose placed in his office, she started experiencing the attacks again. When she reprimanded the doctor, he informed her that it was a plastic rose, and that her disorder was more psychological than a physiological problem caused by the rose itself. It was later discovered that the flower was a leitmotif gift by a former boyfriend with whom she later miserably broke up!” he says, adding that associative memory can be either negative or positive, and is often employed in psychotherapy.

Photographs are often the strongest of all human memoirs eternally storing our life’s events within their realm. As the Sufi poet Jami beautifully penned it down: In my life, be eternal oh photograph. Be the memoir of the days of my youth. When on my grave, flowers become gardens, be the eternal memoir of the days of my youth.

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