Generated using Stable Diffusion XL

There has to be a German/Japanese/Sanskrit word for that feeling you get when a particularly beautiful period of your life is over and you understand that you will never get it back. You have some excitement and a little apprehension about the future but the overwhelming sense is that of a loss of something precious. “Nostalgia” seems to be reserved for a yearning for a more distant past. Wistfulness comes close but is probably not it. What I am trying to describe is the way I felt when school/college/PhD/postdocs ended and it was time to leave the city and move on. Never in my life did I think that I would ever feel sad leaving the Mumbai and Baltimore city limits permanently. Things could only be better elsewhere! But I suppose in that moment those places carried the memory of my experiences and all the people I had met. I still cannot explain it. The last time I had felt this strange sadness was when I left Boston after working there as a postdoc for a couple of years in a fantastic lab with great colleagues. But I genuinely liked my time there so feeling sad for leaving Boston at least made sense.

I haven’t had any such life transitions for myself in the recent past so I was totally taken by surprise when this feeling overtook me a few days ago. The occasion was also seemingly trivial–my son’s play group “graduation” party. He has been going there with 10–15 other toddlers for a couple of hours every day for the last year or so. It is a small, simple operation without any fancy gimmicks, run by two teachers in a society hall, next to a small ground and a Ganapati temple. This play group was his first introduction to the outside world and those teachers were the first people outside of his parents+grandparents family that he met regularly. I did not have high hopes from it. I am generally pessimistic about school education in India (although my own experience was not bad). I imagined this as a stepping stone to the grinder that school life in India probably is. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. The teachers formed genuine bonds with the kids. They used to share a few photos and videos of their daily activities to keep the parents updated. Even in those few photos what mostly jumped out to me was the utmost sincerety with which the teachers were doing their job. They truly wanted the kids to learn and have fun. Throughout the year they taught the kids, played sports, celebrated festivals, took field trips, organized kids' performances and put in tremendous efforts to make sure all of these were executed well. They involved us parents in all of these too, and most parents participated enthusiastically.

For the school-cynic in me, this sincerety and competence was truly astonishing. In the sad world of adults, we understand and expect that typically 90 out of our 100 daily experiences will be “meh” or just bad. The 10% good ones are the ones we treasure. This play group was the very first experience in this outside world for my son and the teachers made it their mission to make it a great one for them. For that I am grateful to them. He will likely not remember any specifics of his time here as he grows up but I hope it has moulded him a little bit for the better.

In the last few weeks and after the year end party the teachers were emotional about the kids leaving. You cannot NOT form a bond with a two year old if you are seeing them regularly. But I was taken by surprise by the strength of the emotion I felt about a seemingly mundane part of my child’s life concluding. I was glad that the teachers made it worthwhile and beatiful for him and us, but sad that it had to conclude.

From my past emotional experiences of leaving cities and workplaces I know that “life goes on” is 100% effective at dissipating these complicated emotions in a few days, and then there are only small, intermittent peaks as you get nostalgic about these memories. So I would just like to savour this rare and unexpected emotional experience, where for the first time in my life, I am not the protagonist.

Amod Jog
Amod Jog

My research interests include medical image analysis, computer vision, and machine learning/artificial intelligence.