Why nostalgia may not always be a good thing
It feels as if I never left school or the neighbourhood I grew up in, even though more than two decades have passed since I left both. Every now and then, during the past few weeks, the screen of my laptop turns into a mirror in which I see myself sitting obediently in the classroom or playing cricket in the neighbourhood playground that nourished me as a boy. The reason: Facebook.
Sometime ago, an enterprising senior started a Facebook page for our school; and even though I already had many of my classmates on my list of friends, the new page opened the floodgates. People I had forgotten all about, people I thought I would never see again, people I was eagerly searching for, people I idolised, people I didn't look forward to seeing again – they all came rushing in to the Facebook page with a collective cry of joy, exactly the way we rushed out to the school playground at the sound of the bell. Overnight, the page had close to a 1,000 members.
After the initial joy of seeing the all-too-familiar names came a series of grim realisations. Realisation no. 1: how much time has passed since we last saw each other! Two-and-a-half decades is a long, long time. And there was no escaping this fact since there was pictorial evidence. Young men, who barely had beards sprouting from their chins when I last saw them, now looked like what their fathers looked like back then. They are the new ‘uncles' – who now have children as old as we were then.
Even the women – I mean the girls – had changed beyond recognition – not to mention their changed surnames. When I was 15, I had a serious crush on a girl called Payal Gupta (name changed, as journalists often say), but after I left school, I never saw her again. When Facebook – the ultimate missing-persons locator – arrived a few years ago, I searched for her. I came across many Payal Guptas, many prettier than her, but not her. Then the other day, one Payal Kapoor, who happened to be a member of the school page, sent me a friendship request. She was no longer the ‘girl' I knew, but a middle-aged mother of two teenage daughters!
Realisation no. 2: I too must be appearing to them an ‘uncle'. My father was 44 when I passed out of school, I am myself 40 today.
Realisation no. 3: You don't have much to talk about even though you are reconnecting with people after a quarter of a century – the same people you looked forward to spending time with while in school. After the passage of 25 years, you don't even recognise yourself in the mirror; how can you expect to connect with a long-lost schoolmate with your heart and soul, that too when he is not in the same profession as yours? Maybe that is why after the initial, enthusiastic bursts of Hi's and Hello's, most members on the page slipped into an uncomfortable silence – wishing each other only on occasions such as Janmashtami, Eid and Vinayaka Chathurthi.
I am not trying to boast here, but I did try to generate some conversation by posting this message on the wall: Those who passed out in 1988 and before: How about recalling your first crush in school (with names and all), now that a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Perhaps a nice way to warm up middle-aged hearts? The idea was to engage schoolmates who are now 40 and above in a juicy conversation – not that I expected anyone to spell out names.
But a senior of mine in school, whom I idolised once, rebuked me. He posted a comment saying that if the girls are named, their husbands may not take kindly to it and that might cause a storm in their lives. I was so amused by the comment that I did not feel like telling him that I was only kidding. Instead, I decided to play along. I posted another comment, saying: “You are so right. If I ever found out that someone had a crush on my wife while she was in school, I would file for divorce.”
Upon which yet another senior, a woman, pounced on me. “On one hand you are asking people to name their crushes, and on the other you are threatening to divorce your wife! You are the biggest MCP I've ever seen.” Even before I could reply, yet another senior commented, “You should respect your seniors. That's what our school taught us.” I wondered if it was really necessary for me to revisit the school.
Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, September 24, 2011.