On the year that I left my parents’ home, the stack of photo albums that held a treasure trove of chronicles from our past, frozen in time, preserved inside squishy padded cellophane covers held a pride of place in the drawing room bookshelf cushioned between the telephone directory and a selection of important books.
Last year I stumbled upon them in the dusty confines of the loft. For the rest of the day mother and I indulged in an old-school pastime — sifting through the worn, a few browned and faded pictures that were conduits to a few forgotten but beautiful moments from our past. We paged through the album reminiscing the moments that went into clicking them, savouring the details as a surge of nostalgia, longing and joy flowed uninhibited.
These albums treasured none of our firsts and no candids clicked in the heat of the moment. In every one of them, the photographer’s subjects were dressed in their seldom best, trying to stand as still as possible — their faces mirroring excitement, joy, nervousness and their best smiles.
There was a picture of father in bell bottoms in the prime of youth that made mother smile as if recollecting an old fond memory — one that was too precious to share. Another saw her draped gracefully in a sari with her long tresses let loose that she claimed was father’s favourite. There were pictures of my late grandparents looking serious and uncomfortable surrounded by a happy crowd of their children and their families.
There were pictures of my brother and me — our cherubic faces sometimes dazzling in a smile and otherwise tear-stained and crying that mother explained were all taken in the course of a day when father’s photographer friend was visiting. Even the ones that did not turn out well were too precious to be discarded and hid behind the good ones — like the one where my adolescent brother’s pimples were more evident than his smile or those in which we looked like blood-thirsting vampires with red eyes or had a funny squint with our best smiles.
On that day, we had peeked into a window of the past catching a glimpse of how our lives have changed, how values that we were brought up with have been tweaked over the years, some a reminder of gratitude and others of triumph and survival.
One more precious task
Since that day, I have one more task in my to-do list — to select a few precious firsts, a few cherished but forgotten moments and some joyous moments of togetherness with friends and family and sort them into an album, so that one of my children will stumble on them, like I did, and we could spend the day revisiting those moments once again. With the photo albums joining address books, directories and real conversations between humans into the category of ‘relics of the past’, you will very well understand why I have not gotten to sifting through the few thousand firsts, candids, groupies and selfies captured over the years, now scattered across hard drives, phone memories, laptops and tablets to begin building my photo album.
My children, who belong to the ubiquitous pose-click-share-and-move-on generation, will never appreciate the value of getting the first picture right or a week’s patient wait for the film to be developed into hard copies or the thrill of being the first to see them, but a picture album can give them a tangible archive of their childhood memories, revisiting a few forgotten moments in their lives, the faces of friends and family members and the joy shared in togetherness that will reinforce their roots and anchor them to a familiar world connecting them to who they really are when they someday long for reassurance or venture beyond that.
Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @MenonPranitha