Photographs: Collecting memories, not things


In one of the drawers in my parents’ bedroom, stacked neatly in an old paper bag, lie bundled together, albums from the past. I remember being so fascinated upon looking at the photographs that, for a very long time, each evening, I would sneak into their room, quietly carry these albums back into my bedroom, close the doors and stare at the pictures for ages. Mother wouldn’t let me at times because she would fear that if I wasn’t careful with the photographs, the only material memories of the forgone times would be destroyed. I would still manage to look at them each day, though.

Touching fingers to the photos of my mum, a pretty teenager wearing her hair in two pigtails, beaming at the camera, always made me laugh. There was dad, quite a stud and ever so handsome, trying to look tough. It is not easy to accept the fact that each day your parents’ are ageing and moving one step towards old age. Only when you notice the contrast between their appearances (then and now) from old and new photographs do you realize this inevitable reality.

There is also a set of their wedding albums in the stack. Looking at monochromatic photographs of your mother dressed as a shy bride and your father, a guarded happy-face groom, it dawns on you that other than being your parents, your mother and father play other roles in their lives as well. Your mother is a daughter, she is a daughter-in-law, and she is a wife. Your father is a son, he is a son-in-law ,and he is a husband. You see them flip through these roles as you skim through photo after photo.

These photographs also reflect the fading away of a generation and the birth of a new one. Among pictures of grandparents, smiling at the lens, wrinkled and bowed, there are albums of the first born baby in the family (Me). There are also photos of the baby sister. If I try to think back, I don’t clearly remember how I felt when I saw/held her for the first time. All I remember from that day is this another girl, almost the same age as me, both of us busy playing hide and seek, unaware of the pain our mothers were going through as they delivered our siblings in the labor room of the hospital. Every time I look at our childhood photographs, though, I cannot help laughing out loud. There is me, the skinny one, trying so hard to fit my adorably chubby baby sister into my small arms. She would try to wiggle out but I wouldn’t let her, so, by the time they clicked the photo, I would have managed to turn her upside down, holding her by her plump legs.

Randomly framed pictures of the whole family together adorn the walls all over the house. Family photo shoots are never uneventful. There is always a story behind them- jokes and tales of embarrassing moments that you would rather not be reminded of. Mostly, the struggle to fit into the frame is also very clearly visible.

In the bundle of albums, one or two are full of photos of friends from kindergarten whose names I can’t recall however hard I try. These are the people who have been lost in the recesses of your brain but you will remember them throughout your lifetime by their faces which, old photos help you sustain.

If I were to choose my most favorite photographs, I would have to go with those that were clicked at various cities I have traveled to so far. I am somebody who likes to believe that that all these places must still remember that in some lifetime, I visited. When travelling, I keep my camera close. Give me a camera and leave me with the local people and the only time you would find my forehead crease is when the batteries would drain out and I’d be searching for a place to put them on charge. Owing to this, every time I come back from a vacation, the contents of two-three memory cards are sent to certain photo developers and a whole new set of albums gets added to the collection.

Today is an age of digital data and pixel memory. Long gone are the times when we would go out in search of a film role for our SLRs. It is not an age when you retain and preserve negatives of your clicks. Back-up these days, rather, is maintained on an external hard disk or a pen drive. I, for some reason, have never found this appealing. Photographs are meant to be touched and to be felt. You take your time with them. You feel their texture and are taken back in time. Staring at a photo on a laptop screen somehow just doesn’t feel the same.

It’s beautiful how forgotten details of foregone times that hide in the deepest crevices of your memory are so easily summoned as you travel through sepia stories frozen on paper. Almost Like a dream of sorts.

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