I want you to imagine a scene. You have gone with your parents to a party or perhaps to a relative’s, and you, being so young at the time, have fallen asleep. The cloudy memories of returning home, the blurred street lights streaking past, your half-opened, sleepy, and droopy eyes reminiscing only catching glimpses of being picked up and laid to bed safe in the warmth and comfort of your parents’ arms. Now, delve deeper into this pool of memories and reminisce, thinking about returning to your old school, looking at your old photos, or visiting the place where you learned how to cycle, each one of these elicits wistfulness, a desire to lose yourself in a bygone era and return to a simpler past. This yearning so strong for what is irrecoverable, something that will only ever be in your mind for yours to remember, perfectly defines what nostalgia is.
Nostalgia is the gentle tug on your heartstrings, a busker playing the guitar while you walk hand-in-hand with the person you love, it is you listening to a childhood song you have forgotten and those moments of carefree innocence where imagination had no bounds.
Nostalgia possesses the extraordinary ability to transport us into a time full of happiness and joy, a time when the sun always shone bright, where sadness did not exist. These old memories, the longing for the good old days, grant us the ability to escape from the woes and worries of the future and bask in the warm and radiant glow of those happy moments when we were free from any sort-of duties and obligations when our only concern was happiness.
But herein lies the problem, and why Nostalgia is a quandary in itself because while nostalgia can be comforting, it can also be problematic. We, having grown up and experienced life along with the highs and lows associated with it, know that the past itself isn’t always as great and idyllic as we imagine it to be. Like our present and future, it too is filled with dark and gloomy days, the forgotten nights shrouded in shadows. Thus, one can say it’s the old memories that are so great, rather than the past itself.
As BoJack Horseman said in the eponymous show, “When you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”. This longingness and yearning for memories of an only good time because we view it with rose-tinted glasses is what transforms nostalgia into its worst or better yet, its darkest form, or what I call toxic nostalgia. Unlike the harmless kind, which is about rekindling old memories and reliving the past, toxic nostalgia is about leaving your present and future, running away or fleeing from them. In search of those elusive feelings, we shun our duties and obligations and drop everything in the hunt for the non-existent. See that’s what is so dangerous about toxic nostalgia, the inherent danger it possesses, which makes us forget the bad parts and clouds our recollection of them. It awakens an insatiable inner desire to seek out the unattainable good parts, the cost of which is too high, yet because the desire is so entrenched in us, we go beyond what is acceptable in the face of logic, a pursuit so unimaginable that the boundaries of rationality become a speck on the horizon only to fail inevitably.
The inherent aversion to loss drives people to the limit, with failure haunting and torturing their minds, hanging over them like a spectre. When they succumb to the allure of reclaiming the happy days and give in to their desire to regain them back, allowing their dark side to consume them and govern them rather than controlling it, people become devoid of fear, with nothing to lose; who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Years are spent chasing that elusive and slippery mistress that are those feelings-the fleeting emotions of the past. Still, on the path to this unattainable object, they lose everything and gain nothing, remaining empty-handed forever.
Excessive indulgence in nostalgia can render one ineffective and unable to do even the most basic things properly. They become so wrapped up in their past that they forget to live in the present, forsaking it and remaining perpetually in fear of the future, wishing to escape from it. Now let me be clear, I am not saying it is wrong to indulge in it and dream of the days gone by, on the contrary, much is to be gained from savouring those memories, but one should never lose himself to these, however great those memories may be. As Paracelsus, the father of toxicology, once said, “Alle Dinge sind Gift und nichts ist ohne Gift; allein die Dosis macht, dass ein Ding kein Gift ist.", which can be translated as "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison, but the dose alone makes it so a thing is not a poison." The dose makes the poison. Nostalgia, in moderation, can serve as an invaluable source of fuel to keep you going in the hardest of times when the nights are bleak, an oasis in the desert of life, but like every great thing, it must be treated with caution and respect, for its overuse can bring about destruction.
Thus, in conclusion, nostalgia, like everything that comes from within, is a powerful motivator and a stop on the path of life, but an even more formidable weapon of destruction, which must be tempered delicately, to bend exactly to the whims of its master, lest it being the master to its knees. When utilised correctly, it can provide enough strength to overcome even the toughest of times, but if it turns toxic, it will lead us down a treacherous road filled with destruction and carnage. It remains a double-edged sword, capable of inspiring and enervating in equal measure.
By- Shashwat Gupta