Family Photograph

I came across this photograph yesterday (click for a larger view). The elderly man in the centre, wearing a white turban, is R's great-grandfather, Chatrabuj Gandhi. R is not sure about the rest, but one of the young men standing behind him must be R's grandfather Dwarkadas; Dwarkadas's oldest son, Mangaldas, R's father, is probably one of the small boys.

It doesn't matter if none of these people are actually in the photograph -- they could all be complete strangers. What I thought when I studied their faces was that these people, like us, were all starring in their own internal stories, even as they sat for the photographer; I imagine that they were all convinced that they were exceptional and significant in the universe. And of course, for all intents and purposes they have all vanished without leaving much of a trace: a faded photograph, some DNA, maybe a house one or two of them built, which still stands in the village.

I know all this, and yet part of me is still convinced most of the time that I'm the star of the play, and that I will never die.

(Actually, the very first thing I thought was about styles of headgear: the elders are wearing turbans; the younger generation, round caps. In more recent pictures of R's father and uncles, they are all wearing white caps shaped roughly like an upturned canoe; and the younger generations have abandoned headwear altogether. And -- oh yes -- where are the women? They didn't observe purdah, and the girl children are included. Were they standing to the side, observing the occasion, or preparing the after-photograph lunch? I bet they were all starring in their own stories nonetheless.)


Articles by Abraham Tharakan said...

This is fascinating. History lies buried in such family photographs. People, mostly unknown, come to life, sometimes from memory, often from imagination.
Where have all of them gone?
'Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!'
(Omar Khayyam. 86.)

Abraham Tharakan.

Shashi Nayagam said...

It is always so interesting to go through old photographs. It speaks volumns. One does wonder what the women folk were doing. Perphaps preparing a sumptuous dinner for the family or standing in the sidelines watching, whispering, giggling away? Must have been quite an occassion to have a picture taken of the whole family those days.

Lucy said...

This has identified exactly a feeling I have when I look at old pictures and have a sense that there was a person, with a consciousness, just as I have, but which is now completely inaccessible. thanks for putting your finger on it!