No one waiting down memory lane…

Long ago I went to Rome

 As pilgrims go in Spring,

Journeying through the happy hills

 Where nightingales sing,

And where the blue anemones

 Drift among the pines

Until the woods creep down into

 

A wilderness of vines.

There is this thing about nostalgia  – it is a diaphanous bubble, seen through a magnifying glass. And because it is magnified, the colours are brighter, the patterns more miasmic than you would expect. If you reach out – you can almost touch the flimsy, translucent covering of these cherished time-stamps. The wise thing to do, as one eventually learns, is not to reach out to touch a feeling, any feeling for that matter.  All that remains is a dyed stain on your fingers, a reminder of what once was. A memory is equal parts imagination and equal parts a slice of the past. Make no mistake, there is a fine balance here, the slice of the past is a muted, sepia backdrop: it is the imagination that colours the greys and the beiges to create a vivid, effervescent landscape of a time long past.

So, where were we? Yes, nostalgia and bubbles that leave stains on your hands.  There are places in our heart that we treat with a reverence normally deigned for fragile things.  Loss brings with it an almost sacred dignity. It talks of the roads we traversed since, it points to places that can now be no longer reached and it makes us believe that anything that is no longer a part of the present or the future, suddenly has more significance than wisps of the roads yet to be taken.

It starts off as a harmless exercise – you find a school community online, and you join it. Because in some remote corner of the mind -you can still smell the ink on Lekhak books, you can still see the roughly hewn piece of cast iron metal that acted as the school gong and you can still remember the peeling paint from non-descript lettering above each classroom door.

The colours come in now, fast and thick. Green for the lawn cuttings from the little side garden next to the Principal’s office. Blue for the relentless summer skies that gazed at you as you marched down the school grounds while the school band played its solitary tune. Dark brown for the football ground where you sat on the sides with empty water bottles and cheered the home team on, when the boys from St Paul’s, came for a match. White for the crisp letterhead paper that your father used when you neede absentee notes for missed days. Orange for the Camel pencil boxes with the silhouette of the camel against what was presumably a sunset in the desert. Black for the polished stairs and the cuddapah tiles that led to your classroom on the second floor. Navy blue for house colours. Lilac for the blossoms that covered your BSA bicycle in a blanket of buds when you parked it near the jacaranda trees. 

I am no longer dealing with a lifeless sepia memory here, you realize – I can see the blossoms, I can feel the gravelly surface of the football ground and I can almost reach out to touch the cold metal of pencil box. I can feel the crinkle of the old students register, with its alphabetical list of names, its checkered cover and its dull, red binder rim.

The sounds come in next. The dull thud of a book clattering to the ground during the afternoon Chemistry class. The soothing sounds of “Humko man ki shakti dena” on cold mornings when Assembly was conducted in the main hall and not on the school ground. The squeaky and shrill tones of the bicycle bell as you navigated the main road to cross over to the parking lots. The jarring drone of the school bell when you had one last question left  in the maths exam. The sound of rain slashing against the green glass panes during the months of July and August. The off-pitch tones of the rusty harmonium being coaxed to produce a song for the Independence Day celebrations. The best friend’s giggle and the sound of secrets being whispered during roll-call. The collative thud of canvas shoes on the stairs when school ended for the day.

They are taking on a life of their own now, these memories. The oranges, the greens, the clanging bell and the cheering for the school team. The blues, the browns and the school prayer. The blacks, the whites, the silences and the reams of words. Snippets of words, mind you, because memories are always about the hours and not about the minutes.

This is when the brighter colours and the subtle hues, the muffled whispers and the crazed shouts firmly pull you away from the present into a time-sucking chasm of the past.  Time stands suspended now. Suddenly, you are not the outsider watching the spool unwind, you _are_ student number 52 with a green tunic and brown shoes and a bicycle that has a jacaranda blossom stuck in the spokes of the front wheel.   You have exams to write and puddles to jump over, you have treats to buy from the road-side vendor selling slivers of green mango with a dash of chilli powder. You can smell the make-up on your face during the annual play, you can see the half eaten remains of a school lunch discarded for an extra game of tag. You can act out this part well:  you know your way around this topography, you  have been here before.

But what you dont realize is that while a memory is a personal thing, the fate and the future of the memory lies at the mercy of those that make up this memory. Those people on the online community that you joined – they have their own memories. They talk of a time and place that you no longer recognize. They talk of people you haven’t even heard of. They jest about the things that you once revered. Their experiences do not resonate with yours – you knew this, of course you did, but the depth of this realization hurts you. You are surprised that a chunk of the past still has enough life in it to hurt you. You wonder where those people, the ones that laughed with you, the ones that chased you down the school corridors and shared your lunch have now gone. There is a poignant ache that comes from thinking about those that held your hand and taught you to draw a picture and dot your ‘i’s and hold a racquet.

It strikes you then that what you stored in your heart was a little snapshot of time. And when the camera was put away- those times, those people and those places came to life and moved away and merged with the mileu of change. They are not there anymore because like every true memory, they became part of an irretrievable past. 

Nostalgia, after a while, becomes a one way street. There is no warm welcome for those that brave this journey to the land of the past, for the past moves on too.  Like a mythical creature from a fable, the road rolls itself up and is swallowed up by the recesses of time. 

Somewhere across a flowing river, you will see the flickering lights of a place that was once home. You cannot go there anymore, you should not go there anymore. There is no one waiting for you because you left on the premise of a goodbye and you left with your face towards the future.  Some journeys are defined only by their destination, yet others by the milestones – but a walk down memory lane is only defined by how long you stay there. Sooner or later you have to leave – when you think about it, that is not such a bad thing. You cannot build your home in the past…

Now every year I go to Rome

As lovers go in dreams

To pick the fragrant cyclamen

To bathe in Sabine streams

And come at nightfall to the city

Across the shadowy plain

And hear through all the dusty streets

The waterfalls again

 

 

 

(Long ago I went to Rome – Margaret Cecilia Furse –(1911-1974))

 

 

  

 

 

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ardra
    Mar 19, 2009 @ 05:57:52

    There are colours, there are sounds, there are smells, there is rhythm – all so vibrant in their impact as we retrace steps down memory lane. But alas! we are solitary in our jaunts-
    and yet I don’t think that stops us from revisiting memories now and again, does it?
    Your words have set me going on my own personal tryst with some favourite moments…

    There is this Tamil movie “Autograph”- where the hero goes to visit special people from his past to invite them for his wedding- and as he visits places and people from his far away past- there is a song running in the background which almost mirrors your/ our memories…

    luv
    ardra

    Reply

  2. bilbo
    Mar 19, 2009 @ 17:00:49

    and what of the person that starts a journey on hope. Knowing that the destination won’t arrive and yet putting one step in front of another. The feel of a touch, palpable but not tangible…

    Reply

  3. Meghana Joshi
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 17:00:30

    The colors, the sounds.. if I pour them in to nostalgia, I probably wouldn’t come back. So I leave my memories in Sepia..Lovely write up. Thank you sharing:-)

    Reply

  4. scarlettletters
    Mar 23, 2009 @ 04:46:42

    Ardra, travelling backwards in time, seems to much easier doesnt it? 🙂

    Billy, dont all journies start on the premise of hope? Long after the milestones thin out, we keep going on the hope that there is a bend in the road. It doesnt need to be tangible, it needs to be felt, is all.

    Meghana, welcome. 🙂
    I wish I could have left them in Sepia too, but the urge was too strong and now I stand sadder and wiser.

    Reply

  5. asuph
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 05:50:14

    Scarlett,

    I tried reading this, hurriedly, the day you posted it. After a few lines, I knew, I could not. Not like that. So I filed it for later-read. And ironically, I had to “come back” to it, to really live it.

    This is one of your best (do I say this to everything you write?). Here, the imagery, the words, the descriptions, are just about rightly done (of course in my ‘subjective’ opinion). You do not seem to over-indulge, nor cut away too quickly for it to build an ambiance. And the thoughts are beautiful, as always.

    I’m happy to see you move into this territory, whatever it is. I don’t even know if it’s a conscious decision/search, but I’m enjoying it.

    -asuph

    Reply

  6. Priyamvada
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 21:31:49

    Scarlett,
    Read this blog a few days ago but got stuck here: “Somewhere across a flowing river, you will see the flickering lights of a place that was once home. You cannot go there anymore, you should not go there anymore. There is no one waiting for you because you left on the premise of a goodbye and you left with your face towards the future. ”

    In so many ways this reminds me of leaving for America. That was years ago. Tough to disengage from that image, though 😦

    Priya.

    Reply

  7. scarlettletters
    Mar 25, 2009 @ 06:08:58

    Asuph,
    Thank you SO MUCH. Not for the kind words (and not because I need kind words to keep me from chucking away the pen, so to speak) but for the fact that you re-inforced the exact quandry my writing was facing. There was a conscious effort to neither over-indulge nor under-state. I am delighted you picked up on that, I needed a positive affirmation there 🙂 I let my writing write for itself, for once. And I will now come back. Hopefully with better goods.

    Priya,
    I read a moving Marathi short story years ago in which the mother tells her NRI son that after a while there is no point in setting a plate for someone who is not coming around for dinner anytime soon. It made sense in a logical yet emotional kind of way. It also has, in some way, helped me make peace with the concept of leaving with your face towards the future….

    Hugs,
    Scarlett

    Reply

  8. Madhumita
    Mar 26, 2009 @ 03:55:12

    Scarlett,
    Just finished reading your post, and I am soaking in the brilliance of your writing now. You have a true gift for choosing just the right words to give body to an abstract emotion, which I sometime struggle with while writing. Like you, I write irregularly, but every time a reader resonates with my humble post, I feel rejuvenated, and somewhere down the lane, another post takes its birth. Please keep writing…to be able to read such a post is a privilege.

    Love,

    Madhumita

    Reply

    • scarlettletters
      Mar 27, 2009 @ 02:45:27

      Madhumita,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I absolutely agree with your words, there is something magical about a reader resonating with your feelings. It is like Ruskin Bond says in “The Room on the Roof” – the very thought that someone out there loves your words is enough to make you light a lamp and reach for the pen even as you wonder how your work will be recieved.

      Thank you for stopping by and for the encouraging comments, I hope you drop by more often.

      Regards,
      Scarlett

      Reply

  9. RGK
    Mar 31, 2009 @ 15:26:45

    What a beautiful post! came here accidentally but never felt so at home after accident!so precise in writing exact thoughts.you are awesome!
    i have so many thoughts of my own but never thought they can be expressed so beautifully!
    its like listening to gulzar’s poem in lata’s voice!
    Thank you so much…

    Reply

  10. IW
    Apr 02, 2009 @ 05:33:46

    >> Nostalgia, after a while, becomes a one way street.

    I would like to take this piece to grave with me.. can you write it in long hand, sign at the bottom & snail-mail me ? Pretty please.. 🙂

    Reply

  11. scarlettletters
    Apr 02, 2009 @ 05:39:38

    RGK,
    Thank you sincerely. For someone who is a die-hard Gulzar fan, your words mean a lot to me. I hope you drop by more often 🙂

    IW mere bhai,
    What is this anap-shanap?? Chee, chee, no talk of graves etc, haan?
    But, aside, great to get your comment and to know that you liked this piece 🙂 Consider the deed done 🙂

    A very flattered Scarlett

    Reply

  12. Winnie the Poohi
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 13:10:38

    Blog hopped here. Cant say how wonderfully you touched my heart with this piece.

    You have a gift of making each and every sentence come alive. Just amazingly.

    You picked up the most inane and most remembered pieces to create this collage of memory..

    I recently met few of my school friends after nearly 10 years. We had changed so much. Ah yes I felt all those feelings that you have mentioned here. But then I could never have articulated it the way you have!

    I will be back for more surely 🙂

    Reply

  13. Scarlett
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 05:18:38

    Hi Winnie the Poohie (cute name btw),
    Thank you so much for visiting. Your words mean a lot, thank you kindly. Please be back for more.

    Cheers, Scarlett

    Reply

  14. Priyamvada
    May 03, 2009 @ 03:22:41

    Scarlett,
    Don’t know about memory lane….but I’m waiting on the tag lane here.

    Here’s a Mother’s Day tag for you:

    http://priyamanaval.blogspot.com/2009/05/mothers-day-is-coming.html

    Priya.

    Reply

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