On the bottom deck of my grandmum’s teak coffee table, beneath stacks of cloth bags and heaps of used paper, lies a photo album from my parents’ college years. Between each shimmering plastic sheet is a picture that could tell a thousand words; instead, it is described in 3,000.
Interweaving between English and Marathi, my grandmum reminisces about a time when all five of her siblings were alive and together; about raucous cocktail parties interrupted by emergency pages from the hospital; about her early post-marital days spent in the art galleries of Calcutta with my grandfather; of aunts, uncles and cousins who once occupied a position at the nucleus of her domestic existence, but whom I wouldn’t recognize if they crossed me on the street — connections severed by generational turnover.
My grandfather tells me stories of my dad coming to the front door of their apartment before every college party. He’d dutifully promise to drop my mum and her best friend back on time each night; a promise I’m sure was never kept. My grandfather tells me names of close family friends who were at my parents’ wedding and at my birth; people who I have never seen since.
I know nothing of these times — of their idiosyncrasies, burdens and joys — and yet I long for them. I yearn to meet the people that peppered the adult existence of my grandparents and the childhood of my parents. I long to partake in my grandparent’s nostalgia because it feels momentous —a nostalgia based on a long history characterised by success and loss. However, I never believed that I — an adolescent yet to build my life — could feel nostalgic.
Nostalgia has become particularly present in my life, and in many of our lives during the pandemic. Reminiscing about concerts, movie theatres and shopping malls has become a common lockdown pastime. If research that nostalgia is a psychological resource that helps combat loneliness is to be believed, then it certainly makes sense that people are turning to nostalgia in these isolating times.
I’ve always feared that pre-pandemic nostalgia could be dangerous, implying that comfort and certainty are elements of the pre-coronavirus age. Memories worth remembering will only exist again when the pandemic is over.
However, even more recently, some of the times I have thought about most have been those months in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. I think about those weeks last summer, when my days would start with Spanish lessons that I finally got around to, and my nights would end with gratuitous violence in Nuketown against friends I had known for 14 years on Call of Duty: Mobile. I long for the weekend nights, pontificating about Yale to my family or talking to new friends from Yale, relishing the heady rush of building new connections.
Nostalgia for such a time may seem odd. Unlike my grandparent’s tales of births and weddings that seem significant as they’re being lived, my days seemed insignificant, merely the precursor to my time at Yale. The notion that not only would I reminisce about this time, but I’d also commemorate my nostalgia in writing, seemed unfathomable to me.
My nostalgia, then, offers me the following lesson. In a year where everything large or ostentatious was deemed a public health risk we found victory in the small. I may not remember my last in-person day of high school but I will always remember these five months spent with my friends afterwards. I will not remember my eerily quiet move-in day at Yale, but I will remember moments from the days that followed: an awkward spikeball match in the first-year courtyard where I met two of my best friends; a 2 a.m. Google Earth hometown tour in my suite; the Cupid shuffle. Memories that we reminisce about for years are made in minutes, products of snap-second decisions to leave our rooms.
Incidentally, tales from my grandparents and parents affirm the same message: the friends and relatives who fed me dahi, or yogurt, and changed my diapers when I was a toddler entered my parents lives by happenstance: in a corridor, classroom or cafeteria during their college days.
The present, then, is infinitely powerful. Even in the middle of a pandemic, you can make a decision — signing up for a class, downloading an app, calling an old friend — that you will fondly reminisce about for years to come.
PRADZ SAPRE is a first year in Benjamin Franklin college. His column, titled ‘Growing pains’, runs every other Monday. Contact him at email@example.com.