A recent post of mine on Instagram got more attention than most. I write on food a lot and this one wasn't a gourmet meal or a rare and unique dish. It was a simple chicken mayonnaise roll, something that isn't even to the typical Indian tastes, being neither spicy nor vegetarian. And yet, it garnered a lot of comments and likes. I believe this is because it was laced with the best flavour ever – the taste of pure nostalgia.
This chicken roll tastes EXACTLY like the one that I grew up eating at Paradise in Colaba — one of my favourite neighbourhood restaurants throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, which sadly, shut down a couple of years ago.
Colaba's Paradise, a relatively new delivery kitchen in Colaba, does dishes from Parsi and Continental cuisine. Owner Sameer Gupta may be quick to clarify that they have nothing to do with the old Paradise restaurant, but the fact remains that he had the presence of mind to hire the chef when the restaurant shut down. Which is why that familiar translucent golden mayo, both sweet and mustardy at once and never eggy, transports you to Paradise instantly. Newbies may come and go, but certain things that remind you of your wonder years, make for long-standing love affairs.
Nostalgia hits the spot every time. Be it TV ads like the Lijjat Papad bunny or 'Roshni deta Bajaj', music from a bygone era, or even certain scents – Cuticura powder or Eau de Cologne – they can take you back in time in a trice. There may be a host of things that are vastly better today. You may even opt for them most of the time, but you know that there's always room in your heart for the golden oldies. You may have the best artisanal dark chocolate waiting for you but would you pass up a chance to pop in a Kismi toffee?
Clever curators of coolth know this. Restaurants like The Bombay Canteen have capitalised on it. They not only have menus like college registers and a playlist that puts you in flashback mode, they actually have a bowl of Kismi toffees at the exit, so you can – literally – take a piece of the nostalgia with you!
Brands such as Saregama's Carvaan have used this rage for retro to sell huge numbers of what is essentially an MP3 player-cum-radio, thanks to its old school radio design bundled with old school music loaded in.
Old Bombay is a group on Facebook that is wholly fuelled by a yearning for the days of yore. With 161k members and counting, this is a group run by NRI Prakash Shroff. There may be new members complaining daily about why the posts aren't limited to pictures and information about only old Mumbai, but they stay on the group. After all, with so many posts starting with 'Do you remember...?' there's always something special to reminisce about.
Such groups also help to see how most of us growing up across India had surprisingly similar experiences and a common frame of reference, despite varying geographies and backgrounds. The homogeneity of the Great Indian Middle Class is manifest in the collective memories of collecting Gold Spot bottle caps and having the 'red medicine' called Mercurochrome dabbed onto the daily scrapes and bruises of childhood.
What is it that makes nostalgia so sweet? Not everyone has had happy experiences growing up. Not everyone has soft-focus memories of family holidays or sepia-toned home movies that give joy. But, perhaps, it's finding the connection through these memories, a certain sense of belonging that comes from the universality of the experiences, that makes us add a halo around the halcyon days.
(The columnist is Associate Editor, Travelgram, and a bespoke Mumbai tour specialist. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @priyapathiyan and @thehungryhappyhippy on Facebook. She blogs on thehungryhappyhippy.com)