WHEN I WAS 15, I went to a rock concert at the Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Bangalore. This might have been another unexceptional event in my blameless youth if not for a few details: it was my first rock concert ever, the rockstar on display was Alla Pugacheva, and the whole thing was Soviet propaganda. If I close my eyes, I can still feel that evening. The year is 1988; I am wearing a sweater several sizes too big, neatly ironed blue jeans and my best black shoes. I am tagging along with a bunch of classmates who are all smoking More menthols—which I abhor. (An unintended consequence of state-monopolised information was that the baddest boys in Bangalore came of age smoking a cigarette intended for middle-aged American housewives). Alla sings, and who knows what she’s saying, but she has fluorescent purple hair and that’s all that counts. We are delirious, I am delirious, and in the twilight of our import substitution, this is my sunniest point.
Now, nostalgia is everywhere. In fact, it’s something of an epidemic. Johannes Hofer, a Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1668, would have appreciated the terminology. In his conception, nostalgia was a disease, its distinguishing symptom a disinterest in the present. More to the present, Svetlana Boym says that nostalgia is a rebellion against time. Over time, of course, the word has come to mean a longing for an idealised past. Personally, I prefer to think of it as a disease. My nostalgia is for an era when there was none, a time in which the future was always bright and usually unavailable.
Irony can be a chronic condition, too.