Written for Michele's Writing Exercises Contest: First Prize winner!
|On that extremely boring afternoon, I had nothing to do. My family was away to my mother-in-law's place, and my clinic was closed on account of a "strike" called by the Opposition Party just ahead of the elections.
I decided to while away the time by looking into my Odds and Ends Folder on the computer. I had created this folder when I had started receiving inspirational messages and jokes on an equal footing about a year ago. I have added to this folder many other - what else - odds and ends. This includes some photographs that I scanned and stored on the hard drive. These are nearly 40 - 50 year old black and white photos, and were taken on special occasions like weddings and so on. There are some group photos that have people in it who died over 30 years ago! My grandpa, for example, died over 40 years ago, but he looks so regal and has a charismatic personality, what with his flowing white beard and a gold-lined turban that was apparently specially made for him and that he wore everywhere.
I clicked on ACD See and opened the folder. I brought up the sub-folder entitled "Sepia Photos from an age gone-by" and clicked on one random photo and enlarged it. It was taken at the time of my paternal uncle's wedding in 1968. I must have been eight then. He sat in the centre, front row, with his demure, veil-covered-over-face bride. His three elder brothers, including my father, sat on his right, while his parents (our grandparents) sat on his bride's left. My brother, then three, my cousins and I sat in front of these people on the floor, while the brothers' wives and other assorted cousins stood behind the row that comprised the groom and the others I just named. The stage was bedecked with flowers; a row of decorative lights outlined the backdrop; all faces were smiling, and the bride seemed to be giggling. I looked at each person in turn.
Suddenly, I saw something surprising: my cousin Yusuf, who sat on my immediate left, was NOT smiling. Not only that, he looked positively ANGRY - or should I say PETULANT. I wondered why. I could not recall why he should have sat sulkily next to me, when all around him, people were laughing and enjoying the wedding celebration.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to get to the bottom of this mystery. Yusuf stays in California, and it being 5 p.m. here in India, I knew it would be nearly 2 a.m. where he stayed. It would be a bad idea to call him. Besides, it would be a costly proposition to call him just to satisfy my curiosity. I then called up my uncle whose marriage photo it was. He stays with his family in Mumbai, India.
"Idris-uncle," I began tentatively. I enquired about his health and exchanged pleasantries. He was pleased to hear from me. I did not know how to broach the subject. I pushed on nonetheless.
"Uncle, I had a question of you."
"Okay, shoot," he invited.
"I was looking at one of your wedding photos," I began. I told him all that I have just written about, and finally came to the crunch. "Was there some unpleasantness or trouble during the wedding? I mean, something involving us kids?"
I must say Idris-uncle took it quite well. He did not guffaw, laugh or chortle at this strange question. He became thoughtful and pensive.
"No, son, I cannot think of anything, but wait, let me ask your aunt. Hold the line, will you?" I could hear him talking to his wife. Presently, he returned to the phone and picking up the receiver, he said, "Okay, I asked her, and she says that she remembers a minor fight between you and Yusuf."
"What?" I sounded shocked, because I had no memory of any fracas with my cousin.
"Yes, it's true. Don't you remember anything?"
"No,I don't." I was feeling so crappy I wanted the ground under me to open itself and swallow me up!
"Okay, talk to your aunt, she'll tell you all about it." So saying, he said goodbye and handed the phone to Munira-aunty.
"Hello, Taher, how are you?" Aunty's voice was pleasant and came clearly across the wires.
She cut to the topic under discussion almost immediately.
"I remember very clearly that Yusuf and Saleh (another cousin of mine, also in the photo) had tried to lift you up by catching you unawares; Yusuf stood in front of you, and Saleh, behind you, and they held each other's hands and lifted you up. They could not lift you up clean, and you fell and broke your front tooth! You cried till you were blue. Then Yusuf got a thrashing from his father. He kept blaming Saleh for plotting the prank, but Saleh escaped because his father and mother had gone out of the country on a holiday and he was under the care of Yusuf's mother!"
"Oh, I see!" Suddenly, it was almost clear to me why Yusuf seemed so morose in the picture. But then, how is it that I was smiling? I asked Aunty this question.
"I think you had got over it by then, and that is why you must be looking all right before the camera." Munira-aunty concluded.
I closed the call, feeling foolish and humored at the same time. It had been an eventful evening indeed.
Perhaps there is a story behind every photograph in your collection as well. Go and open that collection of old photos!
© Dr. Taher Kagalwala, Mar. 2004
This entry won the first prize on 5th March 2004 in a now deleted contest. (1000 Gift Points).