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Nostalgia’s Bittersweet Embrace - Aum Maithani and Helan Maria Cyrill

My sister’s voice quivered as she approached our mother late at night, realizing she had forgotten to mention the necessary school supplies for the next day and that’s when I realized how life was so much simpler back then. As adults, most of us yearn to go back to our childhood days, when everything felt a lot more easier and was much more relaxed. The innocence of the age and the lucid lenses through which we viewed the world made life far more enjoyable. The blurred pieces of the past that flash through your mind when listening to a certain kind of music or as the cold breeze hits your skin, brings a bittersweet pain along with it, almost like an ache in the chest which makes you feel the loss of a time when you were content with your own self. As children, the need to satisfy others or change oneself in order to fit into the boxes was far less. The ability to be insouciant as kids fades away over time as we begin to face the realities of life, forcing ourselves to change for the beliefs and opinions of the people surrounding us.

As I was reminiscing about my childhood, I realized how much I had taken it for granted. You may wonder how and why. Let me elaborate. I used to think that my mom would always take care of my school uniform, my breakfast and get me ready and going. However, now that I am in college, I barely manage to leave my bed after 4 snoozes, with only 15 minutes left to do my morning routine (which may or may not include breakfast, depending on the time left). It dawned upon me quite late that it had been years since I woke up without any deadline to meet or urgent work pending.

Where is the version of me that used to stare out from the verandah, pointlessly aiming at the birds flying high and the people walking like small ants below my building? Whenever there was a problem bothering me, I remember how I used to seek refuge in my mom’s dupatta. I still think about how everything used to magically become fine in that moment. Whenever my mom caressed my hair and asked me why I was low, I could be vulnerable and pour out my heart to her, without any fear. My brain can instantly recollect the sweet aroma that spread across the house when my mom used to make Kheer; it can’t be recreated anywhere else. I remember the days when I was forced to eat my veggies and how bad I used to try to steer clear of them. But alas, what would I not do to have those veggies back today. Whenever I craved for a lite snack, my mom would pick them up for me on her way home. In contrast, now, I have to calculate which snack is both stomach, as well as wallet friendly.

Certain experiences from our childhood are deeply embedded in the tresses of our mind, in a manner that they play a huge part in how we turned out as individuals later on in our lives. The earlier years of life are all about imagination and how these memories become a permanent part of who we are right now. Now, every time I walk through a mist filled street, I’d always remember that huge banyan tree near my school. The sweet vanilla scent of camphor burning near my hostel mess instantly transports me to the mornings when I used to jump into my father’s arms and smell his after-shave. The stained Bata slippers with those fragile black straps pull me back to the days when my legs were covered with splotches of mud after playing in the courtyard for hours and hours. How the blurred sight of cotton sarees in almost all colors, neatly piled up inside the grey steel almirah, spirals across my mind every time I look at my friend’s kurta or how a whiff of female perfume takes me back to the days when I used to race back home to see if the clusters of jasmine had bloomed or not.

My mouth now longs for the taste of freshly baked rusk and steaming hot chai with the customary pinch of saffron from home, as I watch the rain pouring. Walking back from college with music playing in my ears made me think of the days I walked back home from school, with my little fingers curled over pappa’s hands, excitedly telling him everything that happened in school that day. It leaves a lump in my throat to realize that things are different now and how all these are just fragments of our lost childhood, etched in our minds. It’s amusing how such bits and pieces of our memory from are deeply imprinted in our hearts and minds, such that we carry those remnants through all walks of our life.

I often question myself: “Wasn’t I a 6-year-old two days back? How did I grow up so fast? Will I ever be as carefree as I was as a child?” I don’t know the answer to these questions. But, if I were asked, to leave everything I had at this moment and start all over again, the answer would be the easiest ‘YES’ of my life. Is it just me who is seeing his childhood fade away day by day? Is it just me who is holding on to the scattered pieces, slowly realizing that this isn’t something I can take care of? I wish I had the time to ask my friends, but alas, I have to wake up for tomorrow’s class.

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