I am on a hunt … for a photo. A black and white photograph. It was taken over 50 years back at my ancestral home.
It is a photograph of a man I have never seen or met but only heard stories about. The man whose image I always created in my mind as a child and adult. He is the foundation of a warm and close knit family I belong to, whose values and morals I share.
I am on a quest for a photo of my paternal grandfather.
My father was young when he lost his parents, first his mother and then his father. He grew up with his elder brothers, sisters-in-laws (who played mother for him) and his sisters.
Often times I imagine how my grandfather would have looked, how he talked or dressed. How did he smile or looked in anger. Interestingly, I have never seen him, not even in pictures till date
I, like my sister and most of my paternal cousins never had the privilege of even seeing or growing up surrounded by the warmth of our paternal grandparents.
We missed them all our lives, at various occasions. However, even though they were not physically present, they remain a part of our lives through memories and stories even today.
I remember as a child I asked my father where his parents were to which he replied, they are in heaven.
“Would he know me,” I would ask at five years of age.
“If you send prayers to him, he would know who you are,” Dad would say.
Peace to their soul
I would spend long time praying for peace to their soul, visualising my prayers being sent to him through an angel.
I would talk about him at a stretch, tirelessly with Dad. I could not reason to myself their early death and felt jealous of my friends who lived with their grandparents.
During those long winter evening of my childhood, Dad would often tell stories about his childhood and parents. He would tell how my grandfather valued relations and always made efforts to maintain kinship.
Every Friday he would head to meeting his relatives. How, Dad would reveal, he brought watch business to the valley and became a pioneer in the trade. With time his children (and now his grandchildren as well) expanded the business which still remains prominent in Kashmir.
He was a practising Muslim and had a small room next his bedroom dedicated for prayers and worship. He deeply disliked prejudice and injustice. He always ensured equal and fair treatment for everyone who lived and worked with him.
The day he passed away, my granddad had gone to visit his relatives like every Friday. He died of a sudden cardiac failure at a relative’s place. My Dad carried his body home in the car.
As my father relates these stories and many more, I often wonder how life would have been living under the shade of grandparents’ love.
Often times I imagine how my grandfather would have looked, how he talked or dressed. How did he smile or looked in anger.
Interestingly, I have never seen him, not even in pictures till date. There are no pictures of him, as he disliked taking snaps for some reason. There is just one photo of him taken without his knowledge sneakily by some family member years back.
In that picture, I learnt from Dad, he sits in the drawing room of our ancestral house. The picture was not framed or anything to hang on the wall for memory.
It remained in my Dad’s cupboard till he got married. But later he gave it to one of my uncles for some reason, Dad faintly remembers. By the time I was born, there were only some items of his use and his memories left in our house.
Though I have many times wished to see how granddad looked, I never made too many efforts to find out where his picture was. Now past 30 years in my life, I have a deep desire to look at the man who forms the root of my family and clan.
I want to preserve it and save it for my son to see. But I have yet to get my hands on it. The hunt is still on and I am desperately waiting for the day I have the copy of the picture in my hands.
—Sana Altaf is a Dubai-based freelance writer.