I made cauliflower curry as part of the lunch ensemble today. Split the flower into small florets, and sautéed it with salt, chilly powder, turmeric powder, sputtered mustard and cumin. The traditional “vadakkal” curry. I love cauliflower. Yet, the first mouthful of it left me disappointed.
My mother made awesome cauliflower curry. Or that’s how I remember it from 35 years ago. The stems were firm and the flower heads were soft. I remember putting single flowerets into my mouth and feeling the salty sponginess, with the flavour of cumin filling my breath. I have been cooking cauliflower curry the exact same way as she did, for the past twenty five years. I can’t feel the sponginess. I can’t feel the cumin-flavoured saltiness fill my being.
Now I wonder. Was my mother’s cauliflower curry really as good as I remember it, or was it the rarity of the dish – unlike now, cauliflowers were only seen in December, and were expensive even then – that made it precious? Is nostalgia merely a large fluff of fantasy spun around a small seed of memory?
I believe so.
And that explained the nagging feeling I have been having since day before yesterday, having watched Woody Allen’s latest – Cafe Society. I used to be a big fan of Woody Allen. His Manhattan Murder Mystery and Purple Rose of Cairo continue to remain my favourites. But, lately, his plots irritate me. It started with Midnight in Paris. I have watched MiP at least 10 times, because my family loves the movie. I did too. The romance of traveling into the past and the associated living-the-dream scenes were very endearing. Somewhere around the fourth watch, I must have grown up. I realised that the protagonist, Gill Pender, was a fool. The exaggeratedly materialistic Inez, in fact, seemed a lot more rooted to the ground than her flying in the cloud fiancé. During later watches, I was glad that they broke up, for the sake of Inez, who was made into a caricature just to enhance the romantic aura of the past-fantasizing Pender. The movie lost its magic to me. Now if I watch MiP, it would be for the amazing music throughout the movie, Paris in all its glory and Allen’s interesting story telling style.
Cafe Society had all elements of Allen – Theaterisque narration, gorgeous characters, endearing music and butterfly-flitting lightness of presentation. [[spoiler alert]] In the 1930s, the protagonist Bobby Dorfman (who provides an uncannily accurate representation of Allen himself in mannerisms, even more so than Owen Wilson in MiP) of New York, seeking work with his successful uncle in Hollywood, falls in love with the uncle’s secretary Vonny, who has an affair with the uncle, who dumps her because he can’t break up with his wife. Bobby and Vonny hook up, Bobby proposes that Vonny move back with him to New York, while the uncle divorces his wife and gets back to Vonny, who chooses the wealthy uncle over Bobby. Bobby returns to NY, and with the help of his gangsta brother, becomes a successful night club owner, marries socialite Veronica and is generally happy. Vonny and uncle visit the nightclub, and she and Bobby spend time together taking in the sights of New York, he then visits Hollywood and they spend some time there together, before they decide that it is best that they don’t meet because they still have feelings for each other. The movie ends with New Year parties in NY and Hollywood, where Bobby and Vonny stare into space poignantly, apparently thinking about each other with tenderness and melancholy.
My knee-jerk reaction to the ending was – Oh crap! If they loved each other so much, they could have stayed together instead of making their mistakes out into romantic drivel. By indulging in nostalgic reminiscence of past mistakes, one is insulting the present decisions made – right or wrong. Nostalgia is a sanctuary for losers who cannot find happiness in the present. Nostalgia can ruin the present and taint the future for good.
I find my present always better than the past. At all times. Perhaps this makes me cold and unromantic, but as I grow older, I realise that the most precious thing I have and is true is this moment. I work hard at removing all traces of past from it. I use the past merely as a school from which I learn lessons for the now, nothing more. People in the past are in my life now only because I like them for what they are now, and not what they were in the past. I have set free, people who mattered in my past but do not fit into my present, and I have no regrets. At 44, I may be more free from my past than I have ever been in life before.
Now if only I could also remove the traces of future fears from my present just as well.