Friday, October 26, 2012


You know. Things were different.

For one thing , before I was born , my folks went to the US to do graduate school in the very late 1940's, because the then Bombay government granted a scholarship. (And no , back then you didn't need an uncle in positions of power, just good academics.)  Which resulted in the acquisition (on return) then of a decent camera, and an 8 mm movie camera and what was then touted as a wire recorder.

Needless to say, we subsequently had several albums full of small prints showing us children in various stages of growth, posing in gardens (houses had them in those days), next to flowers, even pumpkin plants displaying our size relative to a super large pumpkin. I remember some kind of overexposed moving film showing me walking soon after becoming a biped, sometimes with a parent behind me, and a sibling kind of running across . Strangely these films had no sound. The wire recorder recorded such immortal things like lisping answers to questions, laughs and cries .  All these things were kept away in shelves and drawers to be displayed amidst visiting relatives and so on.

And the real photos that graced our walls were two large framed photos of my two late grandfathers, at an angle to the vertical, so that you always got the impression they were checking on you. Post her everyday morning puja, my mother would climb on a stool kept on a bed, and wipe the photographs clean, with her just washed and dried puja saree palloo; on special occasions there would be wonderful garlands for the grandpas, and we children  did our pranams to the photos at the onset of any wonderful venture, whether at school or home.

We had several sepia style photos with assorted serious types standing in gowns and holding scrolls, as well as some old photos with a senior citizen person sitting surrounded by folks in turbans/gandhi topis, and ladies in nine yards , holding kids . There was always some kid in a velvet embroiderd jacket sitting on a table top, and the table always had these curved legs. All these photos were hard mounted and covered with tissue paper and they remained in the cupboard recesses and never appeared on the wall.

Somewhere in college, folks started bringing cameras to picnics, wedding photography evolved, it became fashionable to click photos of folks being  felicitated for things, or standing next to eminent folks. People started displaying photos on walls , of themselves and family with folks of national eminence.   Families started travelling around the country, and photos in front of Tajmahal, various temples, waterfalls, native places and so on graced the various album pages , but yet , all in cupboards and drawers. 

By now, it was clear that you didn't have to die to have your photo on a wall. From an analogue version of a interconnected complete family, folks were moving places, setting up establishments and the digitisation, per se, of the family had begun.  Graduation pictures,  Wedding pictures and so on started gracing tabletops and walls.  Some grandparents proudly displayed photos of their grandkids in a frame next to the telephone on the table.  Very soon, wedding photography evolved and people specialised in maintaining entire albums .

Instamatic cameras , the precursors of the point-and-shoot cameras, soon flooded the market. Film cartridges happened.  When I went for grad school in the US in the early 70's, I returned with many photographs of various places I travelled to and visited, graduation,  my house, my friends and so on.  Even then , stuff remained in albums.  For example, a photograph of me drinking tea, was not sufficient  for a wall appearance and completely unacceptable.

A short period in which cameras got really complicated and the age of the digital camera dawned, parallel with the entry of the personal computer.  The absence of a physically loadable film was the biggest relief.

The digitisation of society was complete. People started carrying cameras in bags and purses. Folks graduating started carrying cameras themselves to convocations.  Cameras came and captured kids  barely a couple of hours old . Prices of hardware    
tumbled. Cameras started recording video.  Family events got captured in all their moving glory; tears could be seen falling, bangles tinkled, kids bawled, real applause got recorded with action and expressions.

Earlier it was about the message. Now it became about the medium.  Capturing something well became more important than what you captured.  Technology was making society adapt to it  rather that itself evolving for the society.

And then, inexplicably Facebook happened. You didn't need sepia photos in drawers, small black and white prints in thick albums, with photo corners.  Not only did people put photos of family events, complete with labels and comments, they also put photos of what they cooked for lunch, dinner, what they ate at someone's house, what they saw on some tree in their garden, what their dog ate. Also included were photos of some thing they made, constructed ,gifted or received,  sometimes even photos of their vehicles, all  washed and polished. The ordinary became special.

Sometimes something special became a bit less so, because of excessive appearance. 

Walls didn't exist solely in houses. Facebook itself had a wall, on which you put photos and people expressed their opinions.  If you didn't like something, you removed the photo. You even put up photos of others to tease someone.  You could control who could see whose photos. A single family had many individual walls. In more ways than one.

Not just the digitisation , but the discretization of a flowing old life was complete.

Today, along with photos of my late parents and late in laws on the wall, that look down at me as I sit typing away at this desktop,  I also have across the room , family photos of us with eminent folks we met, an unusual gathering of family several years ago. These conservative types mix seamlessly with photos of kids with milk moustaches , clicked as they finished up the hated glass of milk, photos of kids holding cricket bats, standing in half pants, dripping in the rain,  young cousins meeting after a long time, and the portrait of a young woman in a dressy saree in a permanent breathe-in posture  as she tries to manage a massive traditional  Maharashtrian nose ring  adorning her not so sharp nose.

The same young woman, lugs a DSLR everywhere, talks lenses, clicks insects  and bugs on walls and gardens, the insides of flowers, and outsides of monuments, jewellery, food, sunsets, sunrises, and flowing waters.

Sometimes we visit my old maternal house where the portraits of my late grandfathers still hang on a proper , now ancient wall.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I imagine a hint of a smile on their faces, as they see a young great grandchild, seriously fiddling with some settings, clicking and then with some alacrity uploading stuff , on what she thinks, is a wall of her own.  


  1. Wonderfully said!!

    Now we have the Facebook wall!!

  2. Suranga, I didn't want it to end. I humbly but firmly beg for more.

    In your post however, you have made a mark beyond the brief nostalgic journey. I agree with you to the last molecule of my heart when you say that the medium rather than the art has become an obssession. And when the journey assumes greater importance than the destination, focus goes to wolves. That is one difference between the walls of a home and the Facebook wall -the latter is a void, a nada.

    Photography is a much abused practice today. There are as many cameras as there are mobiles, and that could be billions with thousands getting added by the day. Shooting is as voluntary as scratching one's backside but must every click that happens grace the walls and halls of the Internet? Yes, I have seroius objections. The trolls are drowning the webspace with a deluge of horrid shots, both from cameras and pens.

    I wish the granddaughter well in her photographic journey. I hope I am allowed to say that perfection is a moving destination. Let her ask before she is satisfied with a photograph if she could have done better? And whether she should retrace her steps and check where she had faltered. And let her love the medium and the journey but not lose sight if the destination.

  3. Must tell you.
    A few mints back ,I worked hard to collect family pictures together.
    Today,we have a single frame with 30 odd pictures covering four generations in the family.
    It's such a pleasure looking at the wall.

  4. as a break this post is not participating for something.

  5. You have shown the journey of time...really wonderful read...

  6. you always got the impression they were checking on you...... ha ha like that :-)
    Like the way you have come down the memeory lane of cameras.... can relate to most of them.
    Yes photography and communication has come a long way (and pretty fast)
    Like the accompanying song :-)