Speech Melba Columns

Honey, I shot the kids

This lockdown I’ve been occasionally dipping into old photos, something I loved doing as a kid. We used to have about three or four family albums, and you can see how they move down the years from carefully posed black-and-white photos of naked babies, annual vacations and headshots to the more casual and coloured era of weddings, Christmas parties and New Year dances, till they vanish altogether as the idea of the album dies out.

Gone are the beautiful thick black pages, photos attached with adhesive corners, each page protected by tracing paper, replaced by the ugly plastic sleeves of the studio album provided free each time you gave in a roll for developing. That’s gone too. Photographs are innumerable and so valueless nobody prints them anymore. They float in ether now, soulless and lost. The lockdown has filled the airwaves with these empty photos. Pictures of pets and food and selves shared as substitutes for the shared lives now missing.

The camera in my very first smartphone filled me with a false sense of my artistry, but now I rather hate the blighted thing. Especially when other people wield it. Hell, Sartre would have said today, is other people’s phones. And there’s nothing quite as hellish as people constantly whipping out a phone and pointing it at themselves or at you at the least provocation.

A random lunch, a dinner with the spouses of your spouse’s colleagues, a meeting with a distant cousin thrice removed whom you plan to arrange never to meet again. I have no idea why these non-events are commemorated by the phone camera. Who cares? Why must a perfectly ordinary dinner party end with everyone grinning inanely into a phone? It’s like we are all goldfish in a bowl, swimming on show, pouting and kissing glass walls vacuously, endlessly.

Speaking of which, how wonderful that one might not be required to attend weddings anymore in a post-pandemic world! No more ghastly giving-present photo ritual. No more standing in queue like you’re boarding an Indigo flight, only you’re in high heels and best sari. No more being marched across that bizarre desi ‘Wedding Stage’ to pose like cattle as the camera records you handing over the present. There’s an inherent inelegance to the whole procedure that makes me shudder.

I am getting far better at handling all this though. Some months ago, we hosted a couple, with whom we are politely acquainted, for dinner. As soon as the eating was done, the lady stirred to life and fishing about in her bag, she trilled: “We really should all take a photo now.” I trilled right back: “No, we really shouldn’t.” It worked like magic. I am proud of my growing photo repellent skills.

At one time, the idea of a photograph was precious. A day was set aside, a roll bought, camera loaded, hair brushed. Picking up the prints from the studio was an event of high excitement. You were heart-broken that your favourite shot was over-exposed or delighted you had squeezed out two extra shots from the roll. Just 30 or so photographs at one time. A finite number. A limited hoard. To be carefully filed in those albums, brought out on Sundays and high days as a treat.

We held those prints of loved ones with as much care as we did their living counterparts. My father at 25, slim and handsome, holding a cigarette with that stylishness only a black-and-white photograph can impart. My mother dressed up as a qawwali singer for the fancy dress bash at the club. There’s a deep sense of entering other worlds when one holds physical prints in the hand and pores over them. Like that childhood fantasy of being inside the scenes you saw through a bioscope or through the lens of that Viewfinder toy we all had.

When my mother was grieving, we siblings would show her umpteen photographs of dad on our phones. But finally, the only thing that made sense was to make prints of them, so that she could hold them in her hands and flip through them endlessly or tuck them away under her pillow at night.

Have you tried tucking a blasted phone under your pillow at night? The only thing you could possibly evoke is radiation.

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 10:39:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/honey-i-shot-the-kids/article32241412.ece

Next Story