Making sense of nostalgia



The other day, when discussing brand communication, we noted how nostalgia was such a broad platform that it would appeal to almost everyone.One moment you’re in the present, and sometimes, even without the slightest provocation, you’re off with a reconstruction of events that transpired. For instance, just a week before that, when I learnt that Kammatti Paadam was releasing, a lot of my excitement was because it was set in Kochi from the 1970’s onwards. Until 2003, that’s pretty much my life. Before and after I watched the movie, quite a few hours were spent recollecting my life in my hometown across a couple of decades.  More

Ends & Beginnings

A few weeks ago, I met the gentleman who was my first boss in Bangalore. We were meeting after a long time, and over a cup of coffee, he asked me for my visiting card. He looked at it for a while, and said, “I don’t know about you, but I feel very proud about this.” It was a humbling moment. He then smiled, and asked me if I remembered our interview conversation.

Of course I did, because it was one of those occasions that changed my life’s trajectory. He reminded me that when asked why I wanted the job, I had answered “..because my future wife already has a job in Bangalore and I need to move here from Cochin to get married’. He had laughed. The year was 2003, and thus began my life in Bangalore.

The conversation was a reason in itself for a bout of nostalgia, and as I made my way back home later in the evening, my mind was replaying the time I had spent in this city. But there was another reason too, and that’s what this post is about. More

Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.


The circle of nothingness

During a recent trip to Cochin, Dad pointed to a newly constructed building and asked me if I remembered what had been there before it, since he couldn’t. Neither could I, though I might have walked/cycled/ridden/driven past it many, many times. I get quite disappointed on such occasions, because when a memory is removed, it’s almost as though a slice of my life, thin though it may be, has been taken away forever. Strange though it may seem, I feel a sense of guilt, towards myself for not retaining a complete picture of my own life, and towards the object itself. A few days later, we passed a plot on 12th Main, Indiranagar, where a commercial building is being constructed. This place will ‘always’ remain in my memory as my uncle’s house, though they moved away quite a few years ago.

All of this reminded me of Schopenhauer’s “The world is my idea“, and a post I had written more than four years ago, the last paragraph in particular. From nothingness comes an idea, it then takes a tangible shape in a mind, and then probably manifests itself in words, deeds, objects and so on. Beyond its physical life, it exists in the minds of the people with whom it has been shared, maybe in forms massively different from its original, until the minds themselves are no more, and no connection exists between the current form and the original. “Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.” ~ Marcus Aurelius  More

Time Vault


This was my ‘water bottle’ at Myntra, and the victim of many of my colleagues’ jokes, mostly thanks to its size. It is really tiny, and you could finish all the water in it in one gulp. It has been disfigured many a time, courtesy its battles with hot water. But it bears its scars with dignity, even though it wobbles a bit. It also seems to have a fair amount of stature, since at least three of my colleagues asked me if they could take the bottle after I left. I refused, but now that I’m ready to join the new workplace, I don’t know if I should use it anymore. But I don’t want to throw it away either, since it holds a lot of memories and in future, will probably be the only unchanged remnant of some good times. I wish I could store it somewhere, but I’m also trying to get rid of my hoarding habit!

That’s what led me to think of this concept – since we’re in the era of 3D scanning and 3D printing, theoretically it should be possible to construct a 3D scan of the bottle with its basic dimensions, exact contours, texture of material etc and store it. I should then be able to print out an exact replica using a 3D printer. These technologies are not yet mainstream, but I’m wondering if this could be a way of storing memories. We can store images, text, sounds easily now but not smell, taste and touch. This could at least take care of the touch aspect.

At some point in the future, I’m hoping if it’ll be possible to store such treasures as a file and print them out whenever I feel like it. An entire folder full of memories – of different times in my lives, that I can easily bring to life. It would be like a time vault. Vault as a noun -storehouse – and vault as a verb – leaping, in this case across time thanks to ‘physical’ memories. Maybe, in the future, we could live in the past for a day, and come back.

until next time, the future of memories

Remember the feeling?

The subject of Augmented Humans has come up regularly on the blog. (see) Sometime back, I saw this short film (via) which featured a dystopian version, in a world where augmentation was the norm. The range of ideas that have been shown in the movie is amazing.

TRUE SKIN from H1 on Vimeo.

<spoiler> The most fascinating portion for me was the ‘memory insurance’ concept at the end, which would “implant your memories into a new you” if something happened to your physical self. Essentially, your ‘self’ would be immortal. Can you imagine living for thousands of years, with your memories intact? I have always wondered what it would be like to have memories, and not feel them.

until next time, brain vs mind?

1, 2….34

One of the characters in Preeta Samarasan’s “Evening is the whole day” asks, during a conversation, “Everyone is always so tired nowadays. I wish we could all be young forever, or whatever age we ourselves choose. What age would you be if you could choose..?

It made me think of what my answer would be. At first, I wondered if I would like to be older than what I am today – to sit back comfortably with the perspectives I have gained.  As the years pass by, and the memories accumulate, I seem to be viewing most phases of my life so far through a happy prism. Despite remembering a few specific instances that made me unhappy, and (paradoxically) being certain that I was probably frustrated/terrified/bitter on many occasions and would never want them to be repeated, I can now look back and smile at the overall scheme of things. Perhaps I am lucky or perhaps, this is the way it works for most of us.

And yet, even happy memories, I have noticed, can evoke contrasting sentiments within me. When melancholy strikes, and I remember happy times, it’s a bit like what Alfred Tennyson wrote (in a context I have no idea of)

“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, 
Tears from the depths of some devine despair 
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, 
In looking on the happy autumn fields, 
And thinking of the days that are no more.” 

until next time, “I’ll spend my future living the past

Kochi Chronicles – Part 2

….continued from Part 1

Much as Willingdon Island has remained unchanged, Cochin itself has a completely different story to tell. As I’ve mentioned before, each time I visit, I am presented with a new landmark and a demise of an older one which belonged to an earlier era.

For lunch, we decided to go to a trusted old timer – Tandoor. At Chillies (1st Floor) they serve an excellent Andhra meal. It’d been a while since I tried the Chicken Biriyani, so I chose to have that while D and the other M hogged the meals. No meal in Tandoor is complete without their special Kadai Chicken, so we shared a half plate. Amazing as it has always been.

Chillies hasn’t changed a bit though Tandoor downstairs keeps changing the decor. A dimly lit ambiance that somehow manages to freeze time. Helped by the huge photos from a long gone era. (the owner is related to the Travancore Sisters, so you can find many like these featuring them and MGR/Sivaji Ganesan)

The plan for the afternoon was ‘Beautiful‘. A movie we missed in Bangalore. We watched it at Padma, one of the several ‘feminine’ theaters Cochin is famous for. Most of them have survived, though the multiplexes have begun their march. Beautiful lived up to its name, and I loved the way they have quietly, but wonderfully shot the city and Fort Kochi in the movie. The day before, the other M had asked us to note a house in Fort Kochi – the one that had been featured in the movie.

In the evening, I met a friend whom I knew from Bangalore. K suggested the Cocoa Tree on MG Road, a place that has consistently ticked me off whenever I have visited, but is still a fave hangout for many in Cochin. She had moved to Cochin only a while back and I quizzed her on her first impressions. A city in transition, we both agreed, and something that reminded her of Bangalore a couple of decades ago.

To me it was still a small ‘town’, where most people still knew most other people. I probably bored her, talking of old landmarks and routes to school, and how the skyline has changed since then. I told her that I’d never felt a Cochin culture, something I could sense strongly in Trivandrum, Kozhikode, Trichur etc. Cochin has always been Kerala’s big city, changing too fast to have crafted an identity beyond that. She showed me the photo of her house with an awesome balcony view. Once again, I began thinking of where my final home would be. Oh yes, it would be fun to walk the roads as an old man – to walk past the Public Library, where I have spent so many hours, the CISF grounds whose pitch has seen many of my ‘spin experiments’, the school and its surrounding areas which has seen me transition from walking to cycles to a motor vehicle, Foreshore Road, where a dimly lit university computer room hosted my first forays into the internet, and so many many others. But would they be the same? A thought that crossed my mind when I walked back home, seeing familiar faces that had grown older, same people, doing the same things, even as time passed by. A mirror of a different sort.

Dinner was at Kahawa, the owners were the other M’s friends. A coffee shop+ with a distinct character. Hand painted wall art, a book lending mechanism ( a tie up with another of their friends) and reasonably decent food. They also have a section upstairs which is opened on days that Manchester United has a match on. Also available are group discounts and discounts for the Mayor on Foursquare. :)



We tried the Mango Italian Soda, which could have done a better job with the fizz. The Choco Chiller was significantly better and so was the Mint Hot Chocolate.


In the main course, K had recommended the mashed potato and Meat Sauce, but the Roast Pork was too tempting. But sadly, it just about passed muster, as did the Chicken a la Kiev. The best dish was the Grilled Fish with Mornay Sauce. Once again D was the one who got lucky! There were a few options for dessert, but nothing that we really fancied.

Before we left for the airport, we stopped at Malabar Chips – banana chips for Bangalore. Familiar faces, though they didn’t recognise me. Except for one person. :) I wondered if this was the idea of home – a place that you can come back to after several years and still be  recognised, a place that thus gives you a sense of belonging.

As we passed the North Bridge, we saw the first signs of the Kochi Metro construction. There was a line that stayed with me long after ‘Beautiful’ – “Maturity is the loss of innocence” It probably is true of cities too, and I wondered if it was only incidental that there were huge hoardings of a TOI launch on Feb 1st.

We detoured through the University, and though the place shows small signs of transformation every time I visit, there are parts of it that refuse to change. Islands in time. Places where I could stand and travel back in time, because the settings were the same, all I had to do was remember. But I had a flight to catch, and a journey to end.

until next time, timed travel


Thanks to the weird processes of online tax filing, I had to go to a real post office sometime back, and realised that I hadn’t visited one in at least 8 years! That’s the time we have been in Bangalore. I clearly remember frequenting the one near home in Cochin, and the one in Goa, housed within the GIM building. But 8 years is a long time. The Rs.5/ Rajiv Gandhi stamp was something I’d never seen before and told me how out of touch I was.

Like many others, I too used to list ‘collecting stamps’ as a hobby. I remember the last time I was in Cochin, I fished out the briefcase that has been the caretaker of my stamp collection for many many years now. The collection had a much humbler residence in its early days, when I was in school. I only realised later that Dad had an interest too and can now imagine how horrified he must have been when he found that foreign stamps could be bought from stationery stores. Fake stuff, but good enough for ‘exchanges’ at school.

The circular Singapore one, triangles, ‘diamonds’, Malaysian butterflies. There was even a ‘3D’ one, from Bhutan apparently! The circle, a few triangles and the butterflies were original, I think. :) Later, a grand uncle, who could actually lay claim to serious philately gave me his entire collection which included a lot of first day covers and half/1 anna (currency not hazare) envelopes. Priceless stuff!

That’s around the time when dad gave me the briefcase, though I can’t remember why. It used to be the one he carried to office, and was special because it had a number lock! Yes, it was fancy then. Along with albums, the entire collection had a new home. After a few years, it was ignored, thanks to the many other interests that made their way into life. Many years later, I chanced upon the briefcase, and realised I had forgotten the code! I somehow remembered it, but became paranoid about it and gave the briefcase a makeover, one that can now be described as a Ghajini theme. All over its wonderful brown exterior, the number now exists – in various sizes and colours, courtesy the magic of permanent markers!

And that’s how I found it in the room, coated with a layer of dust, and safe behind a bookshelf, housing those tiny pieces of paper that allowed messages to travel over distances. Mobiles, email, social networks and evolution of self and others, all have contributed to the demise of a snail mail culture that included among other things, pen friends and chain mails, a glimpse of the person through his/her handwriting and the sheer joy of a mail waiting for you when you reach home.

And with that, perhaps a related hobby is also forced to breathe its last. This generation will probably be among the last to know of post offices and a hobby called philately. I wonder what the legacy of the stamp collection is. Maybe the briefcase is just like the other baggage that I own, a friend who reminds me of an earlier era, whose story and context end with me.

until next time, a briefcase history

Memories Unlimited

I was thinking about memories one day, and suddenly decided to figure out my earliest memory. I was dismayed to find that the earliest one I could remember was 1st Standard, the colour of the round badge I wore on my tie and the bus I went to school in.

I looked at old photographs of mine, and tried to figure out if I could remember what was happening while the picture was being taken. I saw the badge and the uniform, and wondered if my mind was playing a trick on me by ‘creating’ a memory from the raw material available. ( since I must have seen this photo earlier many times) As the photos became more recent, I could remember more and more, and recent photos, especially the travel ones, still seem fresh. But for how long? I began to wonder if all those vacation photos and the lifestreaming is a wasted effort. Thankfully, I document a lot of things, creating as many memory aids as possible. Videos help too, and yet…

A relative is traveling to the Czech Republic. A couple of decades ago, the currency and capital would’ve been ‘delivered’ (in my mind) without prompting, or being asked for. Now I probably have to google for that data. But I remember the prayers I used to say daily then, and from the order in which I can chant them, I can even remember the way the deity pictures were hung in the room, though I haven’t said those prayers regularly in years. Ditto for certain Carnatic music kirtanams.  Practice may or may not make perfect, but it certainly fixes it to memory, along with a ton of associated memories from another age. :)

I wanted to augment this post with something Anu had shared a while ago on Twitter – a post titled ‘The unaugmented mind‘, which is on the same topic. The irony was that I remembered that she had shared it, but had no idea on the source itself. Thanks to my own twitter backup and a third party search tool, that was remedied soon. When she shared this, I remarked that I remember weird things I mostly found unnecessary and said I wished we could choose the things we wanted to store in our memory, like virtual world filing systems. Sometime soon, I hope, but I doubt whether even the perfect documentation would capture the way we felt then, because we will have changed. But maybe the augmented human will change that too.

until next time, what’s your earliest memory? :)