I met with a schoolfriend last night after a decade. Nothing much had changed, yet we had all grown up. The things in common remained and time seemed to have passed by as if water through a sieve.
What stood out in our conversations was the power of nostalgia. Memories of the past, especially fond memories of places and people, hugely influence our lives in the present. I have seen with many people that their memories of their growing years continue to be the yardstick for how they judge the rest of their lives. For those of us who had reasonably happy childhoods, childhood memories define our tastes for food, music, books and even friends!
Growing up in Parel, Mumbai in the ’80s has left deep impressions on me. It taught me to value freedom, of which I got plenty in a city that was big, yet safe, with excellent public transport. Life was simple and very middle class and the highlights were small, wonderful things like crates of alphonso mangoes in summer, mutton on Sunday, bi-annual picnics to places like Elephanta caves and the Goregaon national park; and Chowpatty visits full of the sounds of the sea intermingled with the smells emitted my a mass of people. This was the time of the mill strikes and I remember vaguely catching the mood in the chawls (via the relatives of Manda, who was my constant companion and caretaker back then), of livelihoods lost and futures in jeopardy; a sense of struggle, sweat and hope intertwined. The buoyancy of Mumbai has remained with me as my strongest memory of the city.
Lucknow, which plays the other major role in my formative years, is like a delicate, beautiful but slowly withering flower. I associate it with the gentleness of its people, the hot, sleepy afternoons spent curling up with a favorite book in cool nooks and crannies of our sprawling home on the SGPGI campus, innocent friendships, the discovery of love and longing, growing up, riksha rides with friends through the city’s winding alleys. If Mumbai taugt me about freedom, Lucknow taught me about bonds and being bound, by convention, by social expectations, by limits that I was expected to respect because I was a girl.
My fondest memories of Lucknow are numerous visits to its many memorable historic buildings, and the fact that old world charm was imbued in its every pore. Even Lucknow’s newer developments exude a languid, laid back air; people never look rushed. Whenever I feel like life is threatening to overtake me, I think of Lucknow and can feel my heartbeat slow down, my breathe come in easier.
Nostalgia is, to me, a great antidote when life goes through its unbearable moments. Mumbai and Lucknow, experienced at two distinct stages of my growing years, have created a checkerboard of contrasting and intermingling memories that have guided my opinions and tastes.
Set in a bygone era, The Artist is really about contemporary issues like tackling obsolescence and remaining competitive- March 1, 2012
Watched The Artist last night. The film is a Guru Dutt-esque visual treat in black and white, each frame carefully constructed. A simple story beautifully told, it captures a bygone era when life was simpler.
It is easy to identify with the feelings of a great artist, someone used to being the darling of his fans, constantly in the limelight, fallen on bad times. What makes it interesting, in this case, and relevant to us in modern times, is that this downfall is a direct fallout of a new technology.
As talkies are invented and gain popularity, the silent film loses its appeal. George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, is too proud to make the transition. He insists on holding on to the old technique and loses his money in a failed self-produced silent film. The Great Depression hits and he becomes a pauper. Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo) who Valentin had once patronized when she was an extra, goes on to become the new star of the talking movies. In love with Valentin, she continues to look out for him, rescuing him from near death. Valentin’s ego and pride stop him from accepting her help and he continues to fall into a spiral of self loathing and pity. Ultimately, Peppy innovates him as a dancing star, and brings him back into the limelight.
The real reason for Valentin’s downfall, however, is not his pride, but his complete lack of self-confidence in a changing environment. He is good at what he does, the best in fact, and he cannot fathom the idea of acquiring new skills, changing methods and indeed, working hard, to remain competitive. This is the topmost challenge we face today. Individuals and corporations must adapt and reinvent themselves to stay ahead in the game, or opt out. The Artist reminds us to keep our pride in check, always be sensitive to change, keep abreast of new developments and have the right attitude towards learning, even at times from peers and juniors. Quite a lesson!