So this post is about a young man, whose serious eyes stare back at me from a sepia-toned photograph. I chanced upon it this time when I was at home in Kochi. Unlike my mother's family stories, that are amply corroborated by photographs lovingly preserved by my grandmother in an ancient album, Dad's childhood is rather like folklore - passed on strictly through word-of-mouth. But because he is a wonderful raconteur, who is himself in love with all the stories he narrates, he makes it compelling. I strongly feel that he joy that lights up his eyes as he talks about his growing years physically transforms him and gives me a glimpse of what a handful he must have been as a young boy. And through his words, I peek into his childhood. My grandfather, I believe was a stern man, his one photo that I have seen and that now hangs framed in my house matches Dad's description to a T. My grandmother has always looked like about a hundred years old (or maybe that is because I had an overactive imagination as a child). However no amount of the same imagination helps me conjure how she must have looked in her twenties. I guess Dad's family didn't believe in too many pictures or I don't know if any of his older siblings have any photos from those years that they don't believe in going over with us, the next generation.
Dad's childhood and adolescence were always hazy black and white reels of imagination that often moved through my head to the creaking accompaniment of a turning projector. I have visualised from his vivid descriptions the clothes that he wore, the little green stud he had in his ears as a child (he still has pierced ear lobes) and the really long shorts that were probably hand-me-downs from his brothers. To date, I don't know how he looked as a baby or a young boy of under ten. Dad's bonafide images that I carry in my memory begin on one fine day when he was a dashingly handsome man of thirty. The day he married Amma. I don't recollect the number of times I have pored over their wedding pictures and his handsome profile and Amma's demure presence by his side. But by then, he had the look of a worldly, wise man who knew how he was going to conquer the world. I have always been curious about the younger Dad...and that's just what I found, tucked away into a hidden corner of his wallet.
There are pictures of my sister and I, at just about every stage of our lives. Some have been buried away never to be seen by anyone because we don't want to believe we went through awkward childhoods! Amma too has a fair number of pictures for me to piece together the rest. However, there are none of Dad. None to help me piece together more of his childhood. None of my grandfather in his lighter, less stern moments or my grandmother in her youth. They are all figments of my imagination, not people of flesh and blood, who lived and loved with the same intensity that I do.
So among the thousands and thousands of photographs that I have, stored manually, digitally and otherwise, this photo that I made a copy of with my phone camera is very dear to me. And by sealing it here with a blog-post, I am going to ensure that Dad's childhood also has a written record - it is not just word of mouth or coloured in my imagination alone.