It's cleaning-weekend today, and the entire house is upside down. You can hear the clanking of vessels in the kitchen and screams from the storeroom (my brother is on bug-duty). I'm almost done with all the cupboards; cleaning the mirrors, arranging the clothes and putting fresh newspapers on the shelves. I have only one more cupboard left, but that isn't a worry because dad is the most organized of us all. His mirror is squeaky clean, his clothes are all arranged, his ties hang crisp on the side doors. Ah, only the annual newspaper change is what has to be done.
Only the topmost shelf remains. I pull up a chair but I only reach halfway. It's nothing to worry though, these old cupboards are pretty strong. One leg on the 2nd shelf and I can lift myself up to the right height. The topmost shelf is filled with cardboard boxes and heavy ones. My first box slips and falls, which is enough sound for my mother to come into the room and give me a scolding. So I clamber down quickly and step on an album that slipped from the old box. These are dad's photographs!
I sit on the floor and start opening the old album. Long before the Instagram era, photographs were stored in book-like albums with a plastic covering to keep the fingerprints off. The album had photographs from my brothers 7th birthday, some Christmas party, family gathering and even a wedding. I wonder if it is a trend or are vintage photographs really beautiful? I'm rummaging through more albums when mom breaks out the silence.
“Hey, that's me when I was in college” she squeals.
“These photographs are so old, I even saw pictures of dad when he had all his hair.”
We both laugh, and then she tells me that these albums are dad's precious collections. He's been gathering all these images even before he met mom. In the corner of every box was a white envelope labelled “NEGATIVES”. I pull out a couple and hold them to the bulb. They're as clear as day, as though these were taken only yesterday.
Many more albums later, mom and I agree with what to gift dad this Diwali. In the evening, I strap on my boots and take the bus to the Kodak store. The shop suddenly seems shrunk. I used to be here almost every month with Dad. He was friends with the shopkeeper and often would edit his pictures in the red room at the back. I even remember him showing me how it is done. With selecting the right negative, exposing it to white light, and the chemical solutions, or was it that order? I don't clearly remember, but those were the most fun weekends. I even remember my first camera. Dad had picked up a yellow Kodak camera for my first school trip to Jaipur. He sent me off with two rolls and two rules - first, don’t click anything unnecessary, a roll has only 36 frames, and second, never open the roll in broad daylight, it will burn the chemicals. Oh, I can't wait to see dad's face when he opens this present.
It is finally d-day. Dad has no idea whatsoever, even with Mom and me constantly giggling around the table. After the morning routine of prayers and offerings, we sit around the table for lunch. It can't wait anymore, so I call out for Diwali presents before we start eating. Mom gets a new saree and my brother gets a watch, and I, on the other hand, receive a cheque.
“This is for that camera you wanted,” said dad.
I look at him amazed. He finally thinks I'm ready. Drowned in my own happiness, I almost forget that we picked something up for him too. He's surprised and opens the package very cautiously.
His eyes light up as a Kodak roll slips on to his palm. “I don't get it.”
“Well, it has been long since you took the camera out, and even longer since we packed another album in the box. So this one is for a fresh start…”
The next weekend we plan a small getaway from the city. Dad and I gear up with our cameras. He loads his roll and I check on the memory card. We spend the evening on the beach, clicking the waves, capturing the perfect sunset. He's busy clicking his favourite subjects: us, and me, I'm busy clicking him as he tries to squat to get the perfect shot of mom sipping on a pina colada.
I've been a photographer for over half a decade now, and whenever I was asked, I would tell people that it was my knack for finding stories that lead me to take up photography. If you ask me now, I think genetics had a great deal to play in it too.