The Illusion of the Encore


The Illusion of the Encore

The potential trap of recreating moments

By Neeha Mujeeb 

Published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 20 | Sept/Oct 2015

I love going to concerts, despite the crowds, the often-bad first act and the long waiting lines. There is a thrill in hearing the songs you’ve loved live by their creators, standing between hundreds of others swooning to the same tunes. I especially love it when a song is finished but the crowd roars and the artists oblige to an encore. In that moment we have succeeded in defeating time, letting the experience of the song linger for a bit longer than time had rationed for us.

As expats, we often try to do the same in our everyday lives – cheat time, ignore changes, look for our encore moments.

I was born in India but grew up in Dubai and Istanbul. I visit Istanbul at least once a year and every time I visit, I go to a café by the banks of the Bosphorus for a cup of Turkish coffee – a comforting tradition upheld every year. The most recent time that I visited Istanbul my friend took me to a rooftop restaurant that had amazing 360-degree views of the city. I sat there dumbfounded about why, in the many years that I had frequented Istanbul, I had not discovered this place, which by the looks of it was extremely popular.

Often times as expats we look for certainty and familiarity. We try to re-live and re-create certain moments, but by being attached to the past we often miss out on what is in the present. I was so focused on re-experiencing the past by going to the same café and having the same coffee that I had lost the opportunity to explore the great city that Istanbul is. Istanbul had moved on, but I was still stuck in the Istanbul that I remembered and cherished.

By eating at our favorite restaurants, watching the same movies, reliving an experience we knew was great, we overcompensate for what we don’t have or what we will miss. However, the more we try, the more we seem to fail to recreate the magic of yesteryears. As time passed, I found my encore Turkish coffee a bit lacking, but I went through the motion of drinking that cup anyway – a constant I could hold onto even if I wasn’t enjoying it as much anymore, an action done for old time’s sake. In the end, the moment we recreate not only takes us away from other experiences but is also only a cheap knock-off. It takes the spark out of that original instance.

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To some extent, I believe this tendency has been passed on to me from my mother. Although we left India years ago, my home has always been a microcosm of India. As soon as you entered, you were transported to the sights, sounds and smells of the sub-continent. Mom always wore traditional garb at home. On TV we only watched Hindi channels and we only listened to Hindi music. Food was always Indian, which the exception of instant noodles, which actually we also bought from India in curry flavor.

Mom tried to turn us into perfect little Indian girls because that is what our culture taught us. Except when we visited India every year, we saw none of that. People our age barely wore traditional clothes, opting for jeans and tees. American TV shows and music were all the rage and we were completely out of the loop. In our tight braids and fashion from five years ago, we looked more like someone from old black-and-white Bollywood movies than kids who have been living abroad and attending international schools.

Of course, my mom was happy. She was convinced that she had succeeded in keeping India alive in her years abroad, but the India she taught us did not coincide at all with the India of today’s reality. India had adapted to modernity, but not in her mind. In an effort to hold onto the India she knew, she created a cocoon that she wouldn’t let her two daughters leave, to the extent that today she doesn’t want to go back to India, as it isn’t the place she once knew or understood. She lives under the illusion of her encore.

We often forget that moments, experiences and environments cannot be recreated by science; they happen with a kind of magic that only comes with spontaneity and a natural order of being. In the process of holding onto what we know – in creating our encores – we kill the memory itself and limit ourselves from new discoveries. As we move from city to city, it is important as global nomads to be aware of this trap and to live each moment fully in the present and not in the country, city, town or culture that we once knew.

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[Image: © tomertu, under license from Shutterstock] 

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