You know how it is with anything we have too much of: we appreciate it very little.
So, when I receive dozens of daily photographs that are shared of each meal-in-a-plate, recipes that are tried out, morning pouts and evening poses, most often I skim through without really seeing them or I just press “Delete”! (And I am not referring to first smiles, first steps, Taekwondo moves, school awards, etc of the newest generation that I preserve and replay endlessly, like every proud parent/aunt/grandparent/grandaunt.)
In the past decade, we have had an overload of photographs, while we seem to have little or nothing of the first few decades of our lives or those of our parents.
In our childhood home, photographs were rare because no one owned a camera and no one was really interested in photography. Every couple of years, Father would get an official photographer to take a few nicely posed studies of us in black-and-white, and he would even frame a couple and place them in his office.
For these studies, we would be in our finest clothes and on our best behaviour — no sly pinches among us siblings while our parents smiled proudly with their arms around us.
However, there were other photographs where we looked more like our regular selves because every couple of years there would be obligatory posing and clicking to mark Father’s departure from one place and his arrival at the next. We were certainly not at our best in those photographs. One or the other of us kids, and maybe even Mother, would have forgotten to wash our faces or comb our hair or change our flip-flops for neat sandals or shoes. Our exhaustion from the ordeals of packing up our favourite toys and books, or our grief at not packing them up but instead having to leave them behind, would show on our drawn and smudged faces. Mother would be wilting from all the actual labour she did with that packing (fighting us every step of the way), and it was hard for her to graciously accept farewell bouquets and welcoming garlands and smile for the camera as well.
In the midst of those moves, we typically neglected to obtain photographs of our houses or our gardens or the livestock that Father nurtured but somehow, all of it flashes before our eyes without effort when we think back to each place. True, each sibling recalls the same moment and the same item in a slightly different way — and that leads to a lot of discussion and disagreement — but we have the benefit of our individual imaginations to paint the pictorial record in our memories in whichever hues we choose.
So we tend now to neglect to memorialise the moments when we are having a good time — or a particularly difficult time — because we wonder if we need photographs to remind us of them. Hasn’t the lens of memory done its share of clicking, processing and preserving of images that cannot be deleted or destroyed?
That is how a heartbreaking farewell — when we waved Sister off to another continent and a whole new life half a century ago — and a wonderful moment when I first encountered a dear friend who was to remain a part of my life for as long, are stamped into my consciousness for as long as I have that consciousness.
True, much has also fallen through the cracks, but I tell myself it only did so because I did not need to cling to it …
So now, while others click and record and send photographs of everyday events, I revel in the moment instead of trying to record it.
Doesn’t what is memorable always get remembered? Or does the humdrum get elevated to the heavenly by the passage of time?
— Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India