Travels down the memory lane are always sweet, and definitely worth it for all the beautiful recollections they bring along. I have always associated many memories to the strangest of things such that a single song, a simple scene or an aroma can take me back years to some place I had long forgotten. The memories are vivid when they come and surprise me with their sharp details.
Today was such a day. One of my neighbors, a septuagenarian, was sitting in the common waiting area of my apartment, a table before him holding pieces of what looked to be some gargantuan electrical appliance. He was working not minding the sun that steadily beat down just feet away from the shadow he had seated himself in.
Curiosity got the better of me and I approached him, only to know what he was working on. By the time I approached him though (after an hour of contemplation regarding disturbing his single minded focus), he had finally finished working on whatever he wanted to do and had closed up the individual parts and tidied up the work table. As he was closing the tool box he had been using, my eyes fell on the ‘appliance’ he had obviously just reassembled.
It was an old transistor radio (nostalgia alert) that had been in fashion some four decades ago. Knowing full well that there would be no hope for that device now, and there was no chance it would work even if he had exerted his best efforts, I could not resist asking him what he had been doing. He patiently explained that he had been very attached to the radio and fond of how crystal clear it used to sound and had been trying to salvage it from definite ruin.
Whether or not it worked, I never asked. I don’t want to know, either. But when I saw the intensity of his concentration as he worked on the radio for that one hour took me back to those lazy Sunday afternoons with my father who taught me life through the little things. My father’s favorite pastime is to take things apart if they were not working, find out what is wrong with them and try to sort them out. He mostly is successful.
He always made a project out of it, and once I was old enough and sensible enough to not swallow the parts, I was his proud assistant. It is from him that I have the habit of breaking things apart and putting it all back together. And if we do have time, we still do it much to the annoyance of my mother, who watches with an exasperated resignation that is in equal parts funny and scary.
The more I watched the man working on the forgotten relic of the previous generation, the more I remembered with a bittersweet tinge of nostalgia the lazy afternoons when Dad would appoint his assistant (me) to watch if the TV reception was good while adjusted the aluminum antenna. Or those times when he soldered bits and pieces on the PCB as I watched, fascinated, as the smoke curled upwards and the bits fell into place.
There was a very childish satisfaction in watching the dead appliance come to life after my father applied his brains to it. And the simple joy of clapping with glee as a child is one of my strongest memories, because it happened quite often. As I watched him fix broken things like magic, I grew up into the same habit. I am nowhere near the magician that he was but still apply a thoughtful analysis when something goes wrong.
With his actions, the lessons he imparted during those projects fit not only mundane everyday things but also situations in life. While I was jumping about anxiously, being quite the bored kid, he would patiently explain everything he was doing, though I could understand very little of it. Those afternoons taught me virtues like patience and perseverance and kept me going when I wanted to pull my hair out in frustration when a computer or a phone went wrong in the recent past.
He gave me the sense of importance when he ‘trusted’ me with the little things that would eventually help the big picture. It was like fiddling with a disconnected joy stick but until I was old enough to understand, he told me proudly that I had done by bit for the device to finally work and that made my week. I got a flashback to a recent time when his phone’s touchscreen failed to work and I suggested the last thing he would have expected from me. A replacement for the phone.
Because it made much more sense to buy things anew. They were not built to last, anyway and they became obsolete within two or three years of launch. Only after he looked at me sternly that I realised I should have answered that only after I had done my best to try to make it work, and not suggested getting a replacement as the first and only available option even if it was the thing that subsequently had to be done.
When I watched the genial old neighbor repairing his decades old transistor because it was a favorite, I was visited by a strong surge of nostalgia that made me reflect a lot about how much everything had changed in the last two decades. Life was much simpler and much less complicated back then, where broken things were repaired and not thrown out or replaced.