My dictionary defines nostalgia as a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past. A “yearning for the past” would, I guess, be simpler. Past is, at any rate, central to the phenomenon. And into this enter persons and incidents and, often, places, too. That’s quite natural, because “homesickness” is accepted as a synonym for nostalgia, home signifying a location or place.
But then is geography so much a part of nostalgia? If so, is it the locality where one was born, or the one where one spent one’s adolescence and youth that provides the matrix? How about people who have been rolling stones, frequently migrating from one place to another during their career, like birds of passage? What stirs nostalgia in you—vignettes of the charming rivulet in your village placidly meandering along singing in subdued tones its song of contentment, vast expanses of fields with the green limbs and golden crowns of harvest-ready paddy waving in the evening wind or of monstrous skyscrapers that claw the skyline? To me the first, no doubt!
Everyone likes to relive part of his past and to be pricked with the golden needles of nostalgia. We revel in summoning up to the “sessions of sweet silent thoughts remembrance of things past”. Rightly did Proust say: “There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period in his youth said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is so unpleasant to him that he would gladly expunge it.” An event sticks in your mind either because of the peculiar backdrop against which it played itself out, the dramatis personae, or of the very intensity of the feelings and emotions it generated, or because of all these three.
Even the pain that smote you becomes a pleasure when you summon it back, maybe because at the time the event occurred, the other compensatory factors weren’t strong enough, while today, you don’t feel the agony so much. By hindsight, there is also the great sense of relief that you have survived what then looked a crisis.
The reemergence of a past occurrence in your mind has a “multiplier” effect. If you get to see a vintage movie, say a hit some 60 years ago, you not only enjoy the celluloid legend but also relive the associated pleasures, recollections of the furtive glances of the girl you loved (and lost!) and, on a mundane plane, the taste of the masala dosa you ate from the theatre canteen during the intermission! And when the chain of such associated thoughts lengthens to a stage where undesirables start surfacing, you have often the option of blocking the channel and choosing another.
The power of the past is unbeatable, it will worm itself into your present with little warning, and if its slices give you pleasure—no matter if pain gets mixed with it—that is consummation devoutly to be wished for.