Is Nostalgia Making You Stupid?


Can I have Maggi tonight?’ my daughter asks me on the way out for her maths tuition. The yellow packet with its red logo has an inexplicable power over me. When I look at it, I don’t see so much a packet of instant noodles as a mug balanced on a concrete ledge overlooking Chikhali Valley. This takes me back to 1988.

I’m tying my shoelaces and running out of my hostel. I have a school bag in one hand and a mug of water in the other. I quickly find a sunny spot on the ledge and place the mug there. From my bag, I pull out the yellow packet, rip it open and dump the contents into a mug. Praying that no one swipes my Maggi, and with no access to a hot stove, I leave my food to cook in the sun for the next few hours until lunch break.

As an adult I know that it only tastes good sprinkled on dehydrated coils of dough. The taste is deceiving. Soaked animal bones and the sea – meat and minerals. A trick played by a chemical dance on our tongues. Nostalgia, however, sidesteps the woman and instead connects with the schoolgirl who still lives in a corner inside my head. My surrender is simple. Instead of rajma rice and beans, we have instant noodles that night. This is the power of nostalgia marketing.

The word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos (homecoming) and algos (pain). Not kneading sore muscles and hurting torn ligaments.

Yearning to return to simpler times. For a series of flashbulb moments, which science tells us, are brightest between the ages of 12 and 22.Like most strong emotions, indifference can be used to direct

human behaviour. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers who were asked to think about the past were willing to pay more for a set of products than consumers who were asked to think about the future. They also demonstrated a willingness to give more money to others after recalling a nostalgic event.

Melancholy, which peaked during the pandemic when it provided an antidote to loneliness and fear, shows no signs of abating. At least not when you look at the success of sequels like ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ and Tom Cruise’s ‘Top Gun’. The latter grossed over a billion dollars and, according to Paramount, more than 55% of viewers were over 35. Members of my generation who grew up with Top Gun posters on our bedroom walls.

Perhaps that’s why Cadbury recreated its Kuch Khas Hai ad from the ’90s, or the collaboration between Samsung and Google this month to a Backstreet Boys musical. This is why Marshall speakers are coveted and Cred commercials with Bappi Lahiri and Kumar Sanu are keenly watched. Nostalgia is a Public Limited Company where all of us are keen shareholders. As a marketing tactic, it is particularly effective because it keeps us focused on our past and not the still uncertain present.

I guess that’s why I spent on a typewriter I can’t use. Like my grandfather

A massive, metallic surface from another time scabbed over like a blistering rash. Arthritic keys and levers all buried in a coffin of rust. It sits on a shelf, a well-worn treasure that reminds me of my childhood.
Last week, talking to an old friend, I said, ‘Do you know how to identify middle-aged remains like us? This is by asking them if they know the words to the Marlex pressure cooker jingle.’

‘what about this one?’ He said and started humming, ‘BJ, Babubhai Jagjivandas.’ Adding, ‘For the longest time, I didn’t even understand what people meant when they talked about ‘getting BJs. I thought he was talking about Babubhai!’

We sat down to discuss Shikari Shambhu, the comic books that ensured my name was often linked with ‘Tinkle’, and a program we used to watch, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan, with Tabassum as a host. The past is often viewed through a distorted lens. I don’t remember a time when I found her show boring, instead I am warmed by the twinkle of her nose and the memory of a rose behind her ear. Memories wrapped around me like layers of cashmere on a winter morning. Now, if a celebrity takes Tabassum and hands her a rose-scented air freshener, people of a certain generation will be easily swayed to buy the product. In the same way nostalgia leads us to get a special packet of instant noodles, chocolates from a new ad, tickets to sequels and rusty typewriters. All this is due to the machinations of astute marketers.

They are clear that nothing in life can be free, even without deviating from the presentation of what we used to be.



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The views expressed above are the author’s own.



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