It usually doesn’t take much to put me in a nostalgic head-space. Catching me off-guard most times, lingering strains of memory resurface time and again, triggered by the most random (and sometimes, inane) things. A whiff of day-old deodorant that clings to an unknown body and an unknown face in the crowded market street can send me spiraling down a rabbit-hole. A car whizzes by me, with thumping beats of an old favourite track I now consider myself too grown up for, and I’m reduced to a ball of mush. A vanity search for an old post throws up an ancient avatar, a simpering side of myself that I no longer identify with. And yet it is enough to rake up so much emotion, I have to sit with it, caress it, treat it well and tuck it right back to the place it belongs, lest it implodes into a cloud of madness, right there inside my head.
Days go by, and still I have those moments of madness that are fighting to stay on top. Last week I took a lesson in hula-hooping. The instructor hit play, and track one broke me down a little.
It took me back to a time of young, blind love in a time before cell-phones came into our lives. Of packed Bangalore night clubs before the 11 pm curfew came into our lives. Of dancing quite uninhibitedly even if we were just literally acting out the lyrics long before that accidentally acquired but carefully nurtured shyness came into our lives.
I have a thing for smells and sounds. They stick around in my head far longer than I anticipate they will. They’re my biggest memory triggers and have the staggering potential to stop me in my tracks. Days go by and still they can turn me into a blithering idiot for a bit. Like it did at the end of the hula-hoop lesson last week. I drove home in a cloud of dreamy sentimentalism, reliving hazy memories of the years when the likes of Ja Rule, Daft Punk and Dirty Vegas played in the nightclubs we frequented.
I don’t remember too much from that phase of my life. As the months wear on, parts of my past fade away getting hazier still. I don’t know how the brain chooses some parts and hangs on to them, while pushing others so far back it takes the body odour of a stanger, a distinct bass line or a string of words to bring them racing out in front again. Perhaps it is my inability to deal, to pack it all away for good. I’d rather have the option to shut it out in an infrequently visited corner of my mind, far away form reach, but close enough to retrace, should I ever feel the need to time travel back to the high octane time of my life, fueled by too much emotion, a misguided rebelious streak and misplaced sense of entitlement. Days go by and still I have this inexplicable need to revisit the madness.
Sometimes the triggers unleash a specific memory, so vivid it plays out in my head like it only just happened the other day. I remember shiny, sequined clothes that I could never pull off. I remember wearing them, all the while thinking “this is so not me” but going through with it anyway. I remember yanking the skinny jeans over my too-big bottom. I remember the attempts at make up. That was all going to come undone with the stolen kisses underneath a staircase in the corner of a crowded dance floor in one of Bangalore’s most crowded and stuffy nightclubs.
I remember the heady smoke of many clandestine (and later regretted) cigarettes wasted in trying to smoke. I remember flat tyres being changed on street corners at absurd times of the night, the boys on their knees while we in our skimpy party clothes stood around trying not to panic about a curfew hour that was long gone, long forgotten. I remember standing up on leather sofas, dancing like nobody’s watching, and eventually realising that in fact everybody was, and the beefy bouncer waving his hands in front of me was a sign that I needed to step it down a notch. I remember playing the drinking game that involved burning a little hole in the tissue delicately placed over a mug of beer, encasing a coin. I remember being the unlucky one to down a mug sufficiently peppered with cigarette ash, on one occasion. I remember bring sick. I remember sitting on a cold metal bench, leaning back on a stone wall in the outdoor area, my brain throbbing to time, in keeping with the head-thumping beats that still wafted out of the dance area. Days went by like a sea of music and memories, with us floating through without a care in the world.
It was like just the other day we drove across town, clocking 30-40 kilometres like it was no big deal, picking up friends from here and there, all to make it to the club on time. All for those few hours of throbbing, stomach-knotting beats. Those few hours of togetherness that were hard to achieve in broad daylight. Within the smokescreen that was a nightclub, something transformed us into preening divas. Something about being in a place we weren’t supposed to made it aspirational. A heady high distinctly different from the vodka shots we may or may not have had. Drunk on revelry was my usual mode of operation and only sometimes, when my pocket money afforded it, the experience would be laced by a little bit of alcohol.
I don’t always remember the nitty-gritty, the specifics, I remember dancing like I owned that little space, within the arms of the boy. I remember doing most things in an uncompromised fashion, whether it was partying hard, loving easily or even eating a good meal and having a memorable conversation. A quality that I briefly lost somewhere in between before I rediscovered it with a vengeance. But these memories they take me back to where it all began, exercising choice, free will, being happy.
Days go by. They do. Weeks and months worth of them, in fact. And while much of the memory fades away, much of it remains. All it takes to remember, is a song.