Written By Tarit Vepari
Guest Writer, SPB English Medium College of Commerce, Surat
When I was going through a list of clients lined up for tax return preparation at my internship yesterday, my eyes met a familiar name – an old neighbour (quite literally). I looked up his particulars in the office directory and learned that he was about 87 years old. Some basic arithmetic informed me that he must’ve been 67 years old when I was born. Huh.
I have always known some people to be old. The number that denotes age loses all meaning after a certain threshold. Even the most dynamic of the lot cease to age at some point. Those around them simply forget to comprehend their age. It is much easier to affix an umbrella designation in one’s mind’s eye: old.
Somehow, such wrinkled faces comfort me beyond words. They appear as vines that reach out from the nostalgia of my infancy to remind my present juvenile self of ‘constancy’, a word made alien to me by the cruel myopia of adolescence.
I spent the better part of my commute back home thinking about this non-event. I use ‘thinking’ here with a mild qualification since it resembled more a blank ponderance which led me nowhere closer to a tangible inference, to be frank. Yet, it inexplicably amused me.
It was just prior to nodding off that I could arrive at some inkling of clarity. I closed my eyes for a few long moments and revisited my old apartment complex in the soot-covered vaults of my memory. In my head, I calmly walked down the same steps that past-me often glided through in a childish race against the elevator. I walked around the periphery, visiting the old frangipani tree in the south-eastern corner and touching, with a pilgrim-like reverence, the fragile, supple branches that past-me had climbed sans an iota of hesitation. And then I saw the faces — faces I had grown up with, faces that had surrounded me since my birth, and faces that had smiled at me, yelled at me, played with me, and engaged with me.
The funny thing is that this world still exists pristine and untouched. I can, if I like, drive to my old apartment complex in the physical world and experience this diabetes of nostalgia without going through the trouble of imagining it at some god-forsaken hour in my cramped room.
Why then, did I need the tax return of an 87-year old neighbour to remind me of a place that my mind still associates (in some capacity) with ‘home’? The problem, as per my shaky self-diagnosis, is a cognitive bias that favours the recognition of ‘events’ (no matter how trivial) vis-à-vis ‘non-events’ (no matter how deeply affecting).
When one extrapolates this on a larger scale, inconsistencies begin to appear in erstwhile immaculate records of the past, for it is our folly to document ‘events’ of valour, loss, tragedies and conflicts; not fond life fragments spent sauntering in parks, hugging loved ones, snuggling in bed, and laughing aimlessly. My cupboard, after all, has a certificate that tells me the atrociousness of my Hindi examination in the second term of my third grade; yet, all I have is a primitive biological machine (one that is notoriously vulnerable to accidental deletions) to keep track of happy thingies, cute smiles, and flirtatious winks that hide between the lines of the past we opt to archive and document.
That being said, I long to be an old fogey too one day. A familiar visage from the past reeking of clichés and rhetoric. A totem that yanks someone else to a tiny slice of their life that hasn’t changed one bit over a few long decades. A subtle reminder that we birth in constancy and we perish in constancy, and in between, shoulder the burdens (both real and fictitious) of existence.
SPB English Medium College of Commerce, Surat