Life in Photographs

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I went on a search for the photographs of my family’s collective past, and returned with a really very valuable set of very few photographs. I am away from my paternal house. So, all I had with me was an old album with black and white photographs of my family. My grandfather’s photograph above came from there. I had salvaged this album last year from the old almirah of my house upon which termites had already made a couple of attacks. I had lost a few valuable books of mine due to those attacks; an irreparable loss. No, I’m not talking about the wooden almirahs or the ones set in the wall. The contents of those almirahs was totally destroyed. It was from the steel almirah that I had rescued the sole family album. Most of the photographs in the album belong to 1970’s: as I have worked out from the age of my family members in them (and none of them has my younger brother who was born in ’81).

There were a couple of framed family photographs hanging on the walls of our house, along with many framed Kalyan pictures of gods and goddesses, for as long as I remember. The damp walls have eaten many of them. The last time I was there, I saw that all the photographs from the bed room walls were gone. Only my great-grandmother’s framed sketch was left. I took it with me to the place I now live at. There were photographs of my three uncles and an aunt, and a very old framed collection of around eight photographs, on the walls of the drawing room. They were in a better condition. The few photo frames in the room of the third storey were all gone too. Thus we had lost a large part of our family history: nobody wrote it, neither was it preserved in images.

My life post-2004 has been comparatively well preserved in images. Then came the digital camera in my life. Now, I have more than 100 GB of my family moments with back up in the form of images. It’s not adequate. Neither is it complete. But, in comparison to what I have from my past, it is much better. What do I do of the lost past then: the past that I only faintly remember and can never revisit? Even more important than that, how do I come to know of the past, our past, before I was born?

Ours was a big house (not area wise, when I look at it with the eyes of an adult) full of people. I remember growing up in the house with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters. My grandparents used to tell me stories from the lives of our family tree. That was before they passed away, more than two decades ago. No one was left then, to pass on the sense of belonging and to impart the element of our extended family into my identity. My uncles and aunts all went their separate ways about the same time. Family reunions in our house used to be regular and pleasant events till my grandparents were there. After them, they gradually ceased.

No, it’s not about my family only. These things happened to many urban joint families in the age when family included one’s grandparents, uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters (all the siblings and cousins). Employment was the reason behind it all, and modernization was behind the concentration of the employment opportunities in certain urban pockets. Change of this sort was not only inevitable, but also a desirable social process, they would have us believe. Well, it becomes believable after having internalized all such theories and ready-made wisdom. A child does not understand it. For him only pain is real, and bewilderment.

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