Updated: Aug 9, 2022
(Opinion column in Khaleej Times dated 2 May, 2022)
How often have we reminisced the good, old times in our casual conversations, exclaiming with a stirring sense of nostalgia, ‘those were the days!’ The glory of the past has always beguiled us, despite the changes and huge strides we have made in our lives. It isn’t as if we had no grouses then, yet it is in the past that we often seek our salvation and satisfaction.
Usually, it is in caches of memories and keepsakes that we deposit our past to revisit, but my tryst with it is often accomplished by old connections established by my parents in their younger days through their old age. As a chirpy child and a young adult who did not shy away from a small talk, I was part of those liaisons, gaining me access to my parents’ contacts even after I grew up. Whenever I was home on vacation, I would accompany my father to the many places he went to, even after I relocated to the Gulf post marriage, and I was part of the conversations that took place at home in the company of my parents’ acquaintances.
What it helped me achieve is a network that lives on even after my father’s demise. What sets this network apart is the fact that these were not just my parents’ friends with whom we spent a leisurely evening or relations who were hemmed into our lives. They were people whom we met as part of our daily needs – the vendors and shop-keepers, the agents and the bankers, other men and women who they met for various purposes.
There was a pattern of loyalty in these connections. There were fixed places and people they went to for their everyday needs. One could argue that choices were limited back then, but even when the town grew and fancier establishments cropped up, my parents stuck to their old haunts, buying and seeking services from the modest corners, choosing familiarity and friendliness over the new neon lights. Perhaps, that is how it was with people of those times. They valued relationships even in the routine transactions; there was a bit of personal touch even in business deals; there was a human side to every aspect of life.
The world has expanded and changed several times since then, and how! We are now spoilt for choice. Technology now delivers people, products and services at our doorstep and our connections have become mere numbers in our phones. The human element in most of our dealings has reduced to synthetic politeness and a customary ‘thank you’ at the end of it all. Come to think of it, even a robot could do that.
It makes me nostalgic about the times when people acknowledged each other by name, and the first thing we did when we met was greet and enquire about each other’s wellness. I still do it. It is a legacy of that my parents have built in me a part of my character; an example they set for me with their honest, affable nature even in their smallest associations. Their old connections and the inherent goodwill are what support and sustain me whenever I am home on a visit. It is what still makes me feel belonged to my native place despite its transformation with time. They are the vestiges of a past that keep me tethered to my roots, nurtured by my parents and kept alive by my own efforts.
Last February, during my first visit in two years, I went on a deliberate trek across the town, under the blistering sun, to meet the old-timers. Not because I had any particular business to do, but to touch base and rekindle memories of my parents’ vintage links with them.
It was overwhelming to see the recognition in their eyes and the warmth they exuded when I stepped in to greet them. Some had grown older and handed over their affairs to their children who too knew me, and a few had even moved on. Some visited me home; some I called and connected with. None of them were people that I had made friends with on my own. They were a unique tapestry of amity that my parents had woven into their lives and passed on to me as an inheritance.
In our flurried settings of modern life, how likely is it that our children will even know about our connections that we ourselves don’t often follow except when the need arises? What kind of relationships are we leaving behind for our children to fall back on? The good old days weren’t good because there was material abundance. They were so because there was genuine affinity that didn’t hinge on personal gains alone.