I am sitting in a dark room with baby girl drifting to sleep in my arms after a long tiring day. Being out for the whole day while babywearing her for the better part has taken a toll on my late-twenties-going-on-eighty body, and tonight I feel the tiredness in my bones. As I watch her eyes slowly close, I am mentally counting down the hours to my own bedtime, wondering if I could possibly skip dinner, but decide against it as my stomach rumbles in hunger. I slowly sneak out my phone and start browsing Facebook for the lack of a better thing to do, which is when this photo pops up on my timeline because my father (yes, he is on Facebook, as is my mother) was tagged in it. It is almost physical, the sudden gush of memories… free falling, tumbling into one another. I am suddenly wide awake, grinning ear to ear. I have been blessed (and sometimes cursed) with an almost eidetic memory, which means it doesn’t take much for the memories to come flashing in technicolour in my mind, and this photo was like a beaming beacon shining bright and a wailing siren all in one, yelling for the memories to surface.
I am no longer in a dark room willing my daughter to sleep, but in our front yard, sandwiched between Ma-Deuta, squinting in the sun. Family photos were a big deal back then (this must have been the only family photo we had in the pre-digital era) and I remember Deuta asking one of his students who owned a studio to come take our picture. I don’t recall how old I must have been, but I know I was young enough to fuss about the shoes Ma had made me wear. I know I must have whined, because my smile is forced, and this I vaguely remember… it was because my sister and I had similar shoes; hers were blue, mine were green. I must have also protested against having to wear the white hairband, because it was part of our school uniform and I hated wearing anything uniform-ish, outside school. Well at least my sister and I am not wearing matching dresses my mother had made out of the same material. Oh I remember very well the saree Ma wore, and how the slippery material felt under my fingers. Come to think of it, Ma’s saree I remember seeing for a long time; it was one of those indestructibles that they have stopped making since. And then, I remember being disappointed the day the printed photo arrived at our place, encased in a shiny silver frame. “But Deuta“, I had said, “my dress looks off-white here! It isn’t off-white, it is yellow! Look!” Oh how important that yellow dress was, with its pretty red roses embroidered on the hemline! Until one day, way past its glory days, when it got stained with pink cough syrup and was relegated to “home-wear”. Sigh.
That photo took pride of the place on top of our bookshelf in the living room… But the best part wasn’t that. The person who had taken our picture somehow decided it was worthy of being showcased in front of his studio (Aurora Art Gallery, which is very much there even now in Tezpur), and each time we passed that place, I would puff up my chest, looking at a much bigger version of the photo we had at home. I felt like we were mini celebrities in our small town, I did.
The smile gets bigger the more I keep looking at the photo, and I start looking at it beyond the memories of the day itself. I look at my mother’s face, so young… and I suddenly realize that my mind has frozen that image of hers forever, which means anytime I think of her, it is this young vibrant woman I see. I look at my Deuta’s beard, and how it took over his entire face and how I would find a tiny patch of skin somewhere near his eyes to kiss every night. I look at my sister (she’d already perfected her fake polite smile by then) and think about this gorgeous woman who would cringe at that hairstyle today. And then I zoom a little at my mother and me, and realize that I am more like her than I think I am, and baby girl… well, she looks more like me than I thought she does. Or maybe I am projecting, because I so want to be like my mother and her to be like, well, me.
Thanks for the memories, Shekhar Da. The people in that photo might have aged; done their part and worked for years and retired happily and gracefully (in case of my parents), and grown up into women who in turn gave birth to little human beings themselves (in case of my sister and me) and many things might have changed, but the family in that photo? It’s just grown bigger, and happier. Keeping in sync with the memories of bygone days, here’s quoting a line from that Margo ad “Kuch bhi toh nahi badla!” P.S. The first photo didn’t have my Aita in it, and my sister is missing from the second photo, but this was my best attempt at capturing the then and now. Sighs again.