The photograph in my wallet

This article was published in the popular American magazine, The Aerogram.  To jump straight to the article, please go here. Thank you! 🙂

It was one of those lazy squally mornings when I notice that my closet requires a serious overhaul. And by overhaul, I mean cleaning. This decision was propelled by finding random objects clustered together for no sense at all. A stack of diaries would hang out with the complimentary ketchup packet from Domino’s, or the curious case of my old cardigan bundled really tight with a magnifying glass in a perfect mint condition. I would have been a lot more proud of myself if I was a Numismatic. Cleaning my room isn’t usually my idea of “things I do when I’m bored” or say, “things I do at all”. It’s a laborious process, involving a string of tasks that are beyond exertion levels of my bodily self. They mostly involve arduous tasks of sorting, categorising, pre-cleaning, dusting, liquid cleaning, arranging, and the most critical (and difficult) of all- letting the ‘cleaned’ stay that way.

I looked at my wardrobe and gulped in dismay. This was no slight task, my closet is Machu Picchu in an apartment- nobody really knows what it was used for. I however doubt if they’ll ever declare my wardrobe full of strewn socks and t-shirts as a world heritage site. Yeah, I didn’t think so either. So, despite my faking a heartburn, and feigning a delicate stomach situation (which led to a scary eyebrow raise from grandma- a sign of immunity towards my incessant antics), I didn’t have much of a choice than to actually get down to cleaning. Ugh, Cleaning. I conjured that thought with as much spite as I could muster. With a heavy sigh, I started off with the top left drawer, which was the most accessible of all- I didn’t have to crane my neck and rub liniment later, or squat on my feet endlessly for hours together. The rule with my top drawer was simple- if something didn’t belong in my room, it went there. I pulled it open, pretending to be Hulk, and it gave away with a tiny shriek and I peeked into the horror that lay in front of me. I must have stuffed a balloon or something on the likes of it down there a few months ago (an incident I clearly cannot recollect), and it now looked at me like a shrivelled scared mouse, waiting desperately to be picked up and tossed. One look at it, and I was suddenly overcome by a nauseating desire to just go ahead with cleaning the whole thing- more like taking the whole drawer to the dump yard. And so I did (the cleaning, not the trip to the dump yard)- I rolled up my sleeves, flexed my neck, took deep breaths and comforted myself that I’ve seen worse. Intently, I began rummaging for things that I could pick off the drawer and find uses for them in my everyday (not too much luck there). Often, I would stop to pick up an object, stare at it, wait for something to jump out of it, or just toss it into the pile of dump that I had started to heap beside my bedpost.

As I went ahead with my raging mission, I found a thick mahogany scarf box which was surprisingly still intact because it was old and the wood was chipping off by the ends- having housed something in it for at least 30-40 years. It was snug with a handmade carving across it, filling the finer carvings with dust. Feeling the texture of the box in my hands, I carefully opened it to encounter nothing but disappointment, but for a couple of thin postcards from the 1980s and a bunch of handwritten bills from the 70’s. “So much of mystery for a bunch of paper scraps,” I rolled my eyes and smirked to myself, and was about to toss it aside, straight into the dump pile, but the box was real pretty, a sight to behold- so vintage and rustic. It’s one of those brief moments of common sense that actually go a long way in one’s life, and I’m thankful that mine prevailed at the right time. The box had no scarf, but a thick bunch of palm-sized photographs. They looked so delicate and preserved, with no fingerprint marks. I tried my best to not be my sloppy best, and moved the curtains to get a closer look. They were loose photographs that had fallen off the glue from a small and fragile black album. As I poked around further, retrieving photographs like they were breadcrumbs strewn around, it was no random box- this one housed a lifetime of memories, enigmatically marking the beginning of a new generation. It was a photo album of my grandparents’ wedding in the 1950s.

The grainy, fading black and white photographs of people I’ve seen only in their older versions somehow grew on me, as my mind raced to place every familiar face in the photograph with my mental repository of images. With every border fading, exposing the cream colour of the thick paper, it felt like a year was lost just by ignoring its very presence. We used to call grandpa ‘James Bond’ for his crisp dressing- a commanding presence that would put even Sean Connery to shame. He was standing beside a beautiful and demure girl, not later than 20, shyly looking towards the floor, away from the camera. They seemed so perfect for each other, and over the course of their marriage of 60 years, they could have not emphasised that point further. They have been our Alma mater every step of the way, providing resources and learning that can never be found even in the best schools across the world. Being hero figures must be a hard job to keep up for 60 long years, but they did it so effortlessly, while simplifying and enriching lives of everybody who was associated with them. My parents, and my aunt & uncle have been their strongest support points as age caught up to them, but even so, they would never agree to be mere spectators to their children’s lives, which is why I owe them gratitude beyond infinite multitudes.

The photo on the wall looked intently at me, almost smiling, as I reminisced about some of the best times of my life. Grandma walked into the room, catching a glimpse of me smiling at the photo on the wall, as I gripped the set of black and white photographs tightly to my chest. “It’s okay. At least he had a peaceful, natural end” she said, in a way that startled, and soothed me at the same time. She stared at grandpa’s photo on the wall briefly, recollecting this day 62 years earlier, their wedding day in all its grandeur. After her brief moment of epiphany, she looked at me with what I thought was a sparkle in her eyes and said with a soft authority in her voice, “Come, lunch is ready. And you better clean this mess right after.” I was too mesmerised to notice the heap of dump brushing against my right leg, and I took the wedding photos in my palm again, smiling and imagining a time and place for myself in an era that I would have loved to be a part of. Later that evening, I showed my parents the photographs, drawing from them awe, happiness, and glee in quick succession, after which a tight constriction suddenly gripped us by our throats, turning it into a sense of longing and incompleteness for the man who’d been a favourite of every one of us- the man we still refer to as James Bond. Several anecdotes and mugs of filter coffee later, I glued the photos back into the album and placed it delicately beside grandpa’s glasses in the top left drawer. As I rearranged the contents of the rest of the drawer, I once again looked at the photo- the grainy photo of a lifetime that went into my wallet forever.

The photograph in my wallet
The photograph in my wallet

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10 thoughts on “The photograph in my wallet

  1. Okay! Let me speak at the outset that this is an extraordinary post. The way you misled the reader towards your cleaning activities, only to reveal later what this post was for, and the way you described the nostalgia of your grandparents’ marriage, that was masterly in its execution. And we all can relate to the glee of discovering a lost treasure like this. Loved the post. The potato is talking again! 😀

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