Dubai Diaries: Nostalgia in a tiffin box
Special memories are often the humblest experiences we have had at some point in our lives.
Have you noticed something unique about nostalgia? The things that help us pick up the threads of the past are often the humblest experiences we have had at some point in our lives. An old audio cassette: a roadside shanty café, the canopied alley through which you walked to school, the windowsill where you used to sit and watch the rain. The dull moments that had no real significance when we were living it real time. Like an artwork on the wall, these memories hang in there for years to come. Every time I travel to Kerala, there is an excess baggage of nostalgia that I pack with me. People, places, smell, taste…things that my memory has gift-wrapped and labelled with a tinge of longing and sadness. This holiday was even more special because of the one-week quarantine I have had to spend locked up within the four walls of my room. A la-la land for I, me and myself.
On day one of my quarantine, I made a mental note of things I would indulge in once I break free. Comb through the old collection of greeting cards stored away in a cupboard and read through some old messages, dust off the old violin I had dumped in the kitchen attic and try playing it for old time’s sake, ransack the old grubby bookshelf for my first telephone address book and randomly try some numbers. I woke up from my thoughts as I heard my mom knock on the door to deliver my first meal. Fear of the virus stood between us as she creaked open the door, and gently pushed two tiffin boxes on a tray and gestured I could have them. I opened the tight steel containers by knocking them against the edge of the table. “Be careful. Don’t dent the sides,” my mom cautioned. “Do you remember these? You needed a new one every few months when you were in school.” My mom reminisced from a safe distance. I sat there burrowing a hole in the rice and filling it with the vegetable curry she had prepared. “How did you lose so many of them? You always said you slipped it under the table after lunch but could never find them later. Is that true?” I don’t think she was demanding an answer for my sloppiness dating back a few decades. Her innocuous query sent me hurtling down the memory lane.
I hated those lunch boxes. Small and stuffy - it felt like a food trap for my dosas, egg sandwiches and the occasional rotis. With every new buy, my mom would make sure my name was carved in running letters on the lid to make sure I don’t mix it up with my friends’ boxes. “Don’t waste food. You cannot get up without finishing it,” I could hear my class teacher growling at me as I closed the lid. I slipped the lunch boxes under the table wondering whether they would still disappear mysteriously. Sometimes, nostalgia comes in a tiffin box, and you have to look under the table to find them.