In the absolutely charming and quite popular 2018 Catalan TV series If I Hadn’t Met You, Eduard (Pablo Derqui) loses his wife Elisa (Andrea Ros) and their children in an accident. Later, a mysterious woman, a scientist known as Dr. Everest, teaches Eduard how to travel to alternate universes, which leads him to try and find a world in which his family can be saved. All the while, his travels to the alternate universes prod him into introspection about his way of life before the tragic accident occurred.
Sounds cheesy? But the synopsis just doesn’t do justice to this heartwarming mix of love and sci-fi. I usually run away from sci-fi faster than light, but here this element never overpowers the story. I stumbled upon the series last year in an attempt to get away from the utter sameness of American productions on Netflix. In no time I was binge watching the series – there was nothing in it to not like!
Apart from the story itself, the hook was in its music. I wanted to hold on to the strumming of the guitar, the highs and lows in the singer’s voice, and the background score (I’m listening to the music on YouTube as I write this). It was as if the music wanted to extract that last bit of emotion left in my mind. Or perhaps it was just the state of mind I was then in? And therein was the hold of the story for me.
Alternate universes may or may not exist, but just the thought can be mesmerizing. What if these alternate universes are nothing but different states of our mind? States into which we can slip into and live out new possibilities, ‘leaving behind’ our physical selves to the errors, hurts, disappointments and restrictions of the ‘visible’ universe . . .
These states of mind are not exactly unfamiliar to me. My work around queer archival research often takes me onto nostalgia trips, where incidents or snatches of incidents from the past play themselves out in my mind with clear, cinema-like quality – with only me in the audience, in the dark, even in the daytime.
The archives I usually deal with are related to Indian queer support groups that functioned in the 1990s and the 2000s or had their heydays in this period. I was involved in these support groups in different capacities and so I suppose it’s not surprising that I often ‘see’ the past days associated with these groups, the people that were part of them, the structures and the places where they existed, and then even the colours and smells associated with the places.
Some of the people are still around, grown much older, rounder, even sexier, but sometimes none the wiser. I rewind onto friendships, animosities, conversations, fights, reconciliations, romances and break-ups from the past. Sometimes it strikes me as remarkable or sad or funny that a particular association is still continuing, even across huge geographical distances. Social media, of course, has a role to play, but only as a facilitator. The motivation for the continuation comes from somewhere else.
The nostalgia trips are usually fleeting ones. There are just too many human and technological distractions around. But reading the old handwritten letters, carefully navigating newspaper clippings and journals with the paper yellowing in places, and reminiscing through photograph albums on a quiet, work-from-home afternoon has sometimes allowed for longer, intense remembrances. Probably faulty memory trips, but sweet and substantial nonetheless.
A door opens into the past. I step into it, into a room and see people from those days, mostly my queer friends. Some of them the way they appeared then rather than now. There’s a support group meeting in progress, jokes, laughter, somebody’s half-miffed because they’ve been called out about their nyakami, two or three people are trying out a role play or a scene for a skit, newspapers lying around, someone’s valiantly trying to write the minutes, cups and plates are put away in a hurry lest I say something. Everyone looks at me and smiles as if I’ve just arrived, late for the meeting, but wherefrom, from the future?
It’s as if the universe in which the meeting’s happening was always there. Only I was gone. It existed even as I existed in another dimension. But now I’m back, back to people I want to be with, who I’ll never leave again – to go back to the future. I’m deeply happy and feel a glow somewhere inside.
My mother calls out from the adjoining room. She’s thirsty. She can’t move around any longer without help. She, who once baked cakes for our support group birthday gatherings. Her daytime attendant’s busy on her mobile phone.
The laughter and voices from the meeting have fallen silent. The people from the past, even if still around (on WhatsApp), aren’t there. We rarely meet. What if I hadn’t met them?
The memory play or replay’s over. The inner glow dissipated. I have to vacate the cinema hall. I’m back to the future – no, the present, in this universe.
About the main illustration: A shot from the balcony section of the iconic Basusree cinema in South Kolkata. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall