I have been sitting here for over a day on this sofa. Around me, decades of memories, decaying, rat bitten albums, salvaged moments from many lives. I cough as I sort through these. Floating in and out of stories, voices from the moments playing in my head. Things that I now see that I could never in real life. Even as others told me so. Photographs in those old albums, black pages with sticky corners barely holding together after all these years. Plastic flip out albums from a less elegant age. Photographs hidden behind other photographs, and now one looks at them and laughs. Sometimes it was just the look in her eyes.
Sepia. The colour of memories. Grandparents unbelievably young and glamorous. Grandmothers in Fur, Aunties trim beyond belief, generations unrecognisable by the glint in their eyes – only their clothes give them away. The inevitable narcissism – I wonder at myself through the ages – the prettiness and the ugliness both surprise.
There are those whose faces are a part of one’s childhood more through the albums than life. Those who were dear and visited from far shores. “Oh! That was your grandfather’s best friend from his college! He came to our house when you were four. And see, his children were babies then.. now his son has retired as the head of..” Zero recollection. Faint connect. Till you turn the page and find a similar one and realise how deep the connect actually could be. Another such aunty-uncle with their little ones, but this time those who hosted you in a strange foreign city for a week. All they had of me was a photograph in their album, and I was family for a week.
Holidays galore. Moments of smiles, frozen in costume. “Where was bhai? Why is he not in this picture? Oh, he was taking this picture!” Genial laughter. “ Ha – do you remember that day? When we could not find a rikshaw and had to climb all the way up the hill! We could not find Bablu.. “ Anchored in those little squares – sights, smells, the feel of the wind – all fading slightly like the colours are gentler now than ever before.
Riotous laughter spilling out. When were we so young? Pictures of holidays on beaches – “We’ll use this on his 50th birthday”. “Oh, look at him with his guitar. That was a moment, was it not?” Eyes lock in the present, an entire lifetime is relived, from a lifetime ago. Of photographs that were never taken, except in the mind. Impressions, raking up what never was, never would have been. And still so vivid.
Gossip Central – some pictures still have it in them to stir things up. Others safe in the emotional distance of time. But, really, we should not have taken that one…
Sometimes it is nice to realise that we have forgotten more than we know. It gives us a chance to relive, to be young again. To time travel, dipping lightly into the famous parties of yore, festivals and family visits, skipping over birthday parties – and then pausing, as time never really could, arrested by deep affection long forgotten. Where is Guddi didi now?
Another quest begins.
As I turn the pages of these albums, gathering up the loose photographs spilling forth, a snatch of a Bengali song – a phrase bubbles up. “Albam-e Thai paabe..” translated roughly it means – will find a resting place in an album. That is what it is, a resting place for how we felt then, while we get on with life.