Where Are Our Childhood Photographs?
I don’t have any pictures from my college days.
Those were days of the reel camera. My batchmates had taken a class picture under the gulmohar tree in the boat club canteen, and I’ve never seen it since. The pessimist in me says it's etched into a negative, probably destroyed in a moth laden trunk somewhere, and the optimist in me thinks someone has it, and forgot to share it.
Photographs are cheap today. In the days of reel photography, we didn’t have the luxury of a second try and Selfies weren’t discovered yet. We posed, ensured everyone was smiling to the count of ‘Cheeeeese’ or ‘Paneeeeer’, and hit the round click button. But puff! The photographs vanished. If it wasn’t on your camera, you’d never get to see it (probably true today too!), unless you go for a sleepover with the girls and decide to flick through some albums.
My earliest memory of photography is when my aunt who lived in america, gave her camera to papa during one of her once in 5 years trip to india-- the trip was a luxury in the 80’s! We didn’t own a camera-- it was too expensive for our income, so the new camera was welcomed with the curiosity and excitement that comes with a new gift or puppy.
Once day, the reel had accidentally got stuck and still had a few empty frames remaining. Now, we don’t waste. So Papa came up with an ingenious solution, to rewind the reel and take pictures in the dark, because his engineering mind said that will recover the frames with pictures on them, till we get to the empty frames. So he put a large blanket over him, looking like a wannabe ghost, recreated darkness and clicked away under it, while I sat next to him wondering how this is going to work. We ended up with a complete blackness on the good frames and I don’t think I ever messed with the reel after that.
I used the camera the most was when I was 15 years old during the last few days of school. We were making merry on the basketball field, literally hopping and skipping and taking pictures of all of us who looked like each other in our blue pinafores. I had a friend who gave her camera to a junior girl, and asked her to take pictures. The poor girl continued to click picture after picture and then got a sound yelling from the camera owner about how many frames shes wasted! Those were the old days-- more pictures meant more wasted money.
The most pain with old camera’s, was the time to process the pictures. The pain of visiting the rude Kodak shop on MG Road, who always said “ready in 24 hours” (and never had them ready in time), returning twice to collect the pictures, was then finished off with a flip-- the elevated joy of looking at the prints with the whole family gathered around it, to see how the pictures have come out. Since there was no facebook, and no digital print, the only show off was to label the back and neatly insert them into the plastic pages of an overly decorated album cover.
Today, the biggest task pending before my family, is to scan into digital format, the 50 odd photo albums we have. The collection includes a rare picture from my grandfathers childhood, his army days where he was at the height of his photography love, upto my days as a toddler. Those albums then have an errie silence-- a lack of visual proof of my growing up during my school, because we didn’t have a camera, followed by a sudden reappearance of the grown up me. Sorting, scanning (or scanning and sorting) them is a task, the enormity of which makes us hesitant, despite the modern tools of a scanner and phone apps.
The smart phone and its handy camera was introduced only after I graduated. So somewhere, tucked into someones dusty trunk, are pictures from my engineering class under the boat club tree. With me, I have 1 picture from sari day but no pictures from the day we girls wore ties to college, because there weren’t enough girls in the division to make sari’s look normal. I am missing pictures from my semester at vtech, a college I really wanted to forget, but yet wanted to look back at the memories to remember the days of hardship-- where we still smiled despite the cold weather, no money and no family.
I am thankful to all the apps and advances in cloud technology, that backup my pictures so that I can be present in the moment-- which is another irony-- because we take pictures to remember and forget to enjoy the moment in that act. As I look over my food pictures, I am super thankful for digital cameras, that offer another advantage over reel--which is to make mistakes, takes and re-takes, like a new actor in front of a camera.
I have learnt and grown with every click.