Coming as I do from an Army background, my father a senior pathologist in the medical corps, I had my fair share of residential relocations growing up, each change of city meaning a change of educational institution and the tectonic shifts that went with it – making new friends, adapting to new teaching methods, playing catch-up on the syllabus (for no school is ever at the same level of progress as another, particularly half way through an academic year), managing the expectations of a new set of teachers and adjusting to the new set of foibles and idiosyncrasies they came with – though, truth be told, a doctor in the army, particularly one with the seniority my dad had when my schooling required me to be resident in one location for at least three years at a stretch, is much less booted about than his counterparts in, say, the armoured corps, artillery, infantry or border security forces where you can consider yourself lucky if you aren’t ordered to pack your bags and head for the next temporary home every eighteen months or so, with or without your family.
Despite the relative stability of my Alma Mater years (in physical terms if not mental), I find myself, without any discernible effort on my part, an unwitting (and, dare I say, reluctant?) member of four separate alumni associations. When you add to that the several organizations I have worked for in a career, checkered of sorts, spanning three decades that have robust and active “past employee” associations of their own, then, at any point of time, I am automatically subscribed to at least eight separate newsletter services, not to mention the Facebook pages and the Yahoo and Whatsapp chat groups that go with them.
With the instant access to one’s target audience that current technology provides, the narcissistic and exhibitionistic impulses it inflames and the subconscious creative urges it inveigles out of even the least right-brained individuals, I am frequently drowned in an unbridled, tsunami-like barrage of electronic mail, posts, texts and tweets from active alumni who, on the evidence of their activity on social media, have nothing better to do with their time than inhabit this virtual world and yearningly reminisce about the good old days.
To annotate their fading memories, they unearth monochrome photographs from long-forgotten albums of you looking 25 years younger (which you probably were when those photos were taken) or you, caught in an unguarded and (invariably) embarrassing moment looking like something you wouldn’t ever want to be reminded of let alone have flaunted publicly. Borrowed quotations, embellished with what are thought to be appropriate images in case one were to miss their deeper significance, are shared like a morning prayer as are meandering jokes that require one to scroll down endlessly to reach the punch lines, apparently to heighten their impact on senses that, by now, are likely to have been rendered numb by the preceding plethora of texts, notifications and illustrated annotations. To exemplify that they aren’t always living in the past, they post images of alumni parties (in cities where their strength is large enough to justify them) where, if the array of fine whiskies and wines and magnified close-ups of exotic cuisines are anything to go by, everyone should be having a whale of a time time, though, on the basis of photographs alone, there is little evidence of the energy and joie de vivre that are thought to accompany such splendorous occasions, which still does not mean you won’t be getting an invitation to next year’s country house/5-star hotel/exotic location gathering of the clan, despite your not having attended the preceding 25.
And, as a guilty counterpoint to the fond recollections and hedonistic revelry, you have the occasional “In Memorium” that, like the requiem Lord Tennyson wrote for his beloved Cambridge friend – though not in anywhere near the same lyrical terms – announces the passing of a former colleague and, in so doing, reminds you of your own mortality, as if such reminders of one’s impermanence were needed.
At the risk of giving offence to the hundreds who have voluntarily welcomed me to the club, befriended me without prejudgment or query, put me on their group lists and shared their world ungrudgingly with me, even to the extent of introducing me to their wives, sons, daughters, grandchildren, persons most revered, traits least liked, habits, hobbies, political opinions, religious beliefs, most favoured restaurants and least preferred travel destinations, I must say, like Groucho Marx did years before me in words more appropriate than I can ever hope to muster, I don’t want to belong to any Club that will accept people like me as a member, not if the raison d’être of its existence is to relive the past for I have neither the memory nor the affinity for it.
Or, it could simply be that with the sands of time running down, I would rather be living the moment than mourning, like poor Mr Engelbert Humperdinck, the way it used to be.