Looking at the past through rose tinted glasses

Live in the present, be like a child

As photos of the Indian monsoon flood my Facebook timeline and news feeds, I find myself in the grip of strong nostalgia. After a long, hot and dry summery spell, monsoon is a time of celebration in India. Childhood memories of thundering rain clouds, the cool breeze filled up with the earthy smell of the first rains, mom made ilaichi (cardamom) tea and aloo pakore (potato fritters), all come alive in a flash and make me long for ‘home’. I look out of my window now and see a thick grey cloud in the sky. There’s no dearth of rain in England but the dull, achy drizzle fades in comparison to a full blown, scented downpour.

Nostalgia – a constant companion
As a first generation migrant living away from my ‘home’ and family, nostalgia is my constant companion. It catches me unaware when I least expect it. Amid the quiet of my home in a leafy suburb here in England, I particularly miss the ambient sounds made up of vegetable sellers, people talking, traffic (yes, even traffic), and chants heard from the nearby temple that I grew up listening to.

The past wasn’t perfect but somehow seems rosier. As a child, I hated to be dragged to meet the large number of relatives during festivals, but memories of those times seem joyous. The mind doesn’t remember details of getting stuck in traffic jams after rain, all it remembers is the scent of the first showers. I guess the longing has no logical basis but is more of an emotional need to connect with the people, places and events associated with the younger, carefree self.

The old is comforting but the new is reality
While memories of younger days have helped me stay connected to my Indian roots, I am not entirely sure if I always like the nostalgia as it evokes very strong emotions, when I would prefer to be more rational.

Logically, there should be no room for the kind of nostalgia that holds us back. We travel to home countries far more often now, and are in touch with immediate and extended family on a daily basis thanks to Whatsapp and Skype. The presence of strong multicultural communities mean our children can absorb the best of both worlds, without any of our emotional baggage.

Still, most of the first generation migrants I know perpetually oscillate between missing the old and adjusting to the new. We moan about how our children don’t get to play on the streets like we did at their age. At other times, we indulge in self-pity about how our children are somehow deprived of the affection and company of cousins and large families that we enjoyed. The result is, we are in a constant state of flux, and neither completely belong here or there. The children, thankfully, do not know any different and seem content with their lifestyle in the present.

“I miss my home,” I casually tell my four year old.

“But this is your home mummy,” she replies.

“But I miss my family and friends,” I say.

“But papa and I are your family mummy and you have so many friends,” she concludes.

I secretly hope the child’s pragmatism always wins over my nostalgic overdrive.


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