Sunday, November 01, 2009

How albums trigger childhood memories

A cousin of mine called today morning, inviting me over for lunch. Now that is something I always relish – visiting homes where you’ve been invited and enjoying home-cooked food. Sometimes, of course, when the number of guests is too many, food is ordered and with my cousins in Chennai, it is usually the same caterer. Eventually, I did not go for lunch – preferred to have it at home – but told her that I’d come to taste the pal payasam she had made. And so, post-lunch, my niece and I went to her home in Ashok Nagar. It was almost 2pm and most people at her place were in slumber. The children were watching television; they switched it off as soon as we entered, almost as if to say “thank you for coming”. What a bore television can be! Can’t children of this generation talk and shout and play on holiday afternoons as we used to do when we were kids?

My cousin’s younger sister was looking at old pictures from the family album. Seeing us, she perked up and showed us pictures of her parents, her childhood, the family home, even pictures of her with her pet dog and cat. And all along I had thought she detested pets. Here she was years ago, in one picture, stroking her pet dog in bed and, in another, posing for the camera, a hand on her cat. There were pictures of her and her three sisters (it was one of them who had called me over for lunch) in various stages of growth – from chubby semi-clad children to naughty adolescents to young women on the threshold of matrimony. And one, showing the youngest of them, flush with her pregnancy. There was also a picture of their mother with her sisters and brothers, all seven of them posing together for posterity at the marriage reception of my cousin. Only three of that generation remain, although the ones no more could easily have lived some years longer.

In a couple of those pictures, I spotted myself, my wife and daughter, and even my mother. Today, we all look so different. It’s amazing what a few years can do to your personality, how the freshness of childhood and youth can give way to old age and disease. Sometimes, you feel misty-eyed and wish that you could roll back all those years, go right back to childhood and to your friends who meant so much to you. Suddenly, you don’t even know where all of them are. Yes, you do have information or contact numbers of a few of them, but who takes the trouble to reach out and keep in touch? Hardly anybody. The ‘reaching out’ part is always conveniently postponed.

Seeing all those old pictures in my cousin’s album I decided to spend some time one day soon on all the albums at home, go through each one of them and drown myself in nostalgia. I have also decided to reach out to a few of my classmates whose phone numbers I have. Not that I have grown old, but memories are memories.

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