I was burrowing through my closet the other day. Buried beneath the long-forgotten scarves and shawls and tee-shirts, I found an album.
Just before he left for his first trip back home to Delhi, he asked me,
What shall I get you from there?
And I said.
Yourself. Lots of yourself.
Yes. You with your family. Your school. College. Friends. Festive occasions. Baby memories. Photographs. I want to see what the rest of your life is like.
He looked at me like I was crazy. (Those were early days after all..in the months that followed, he got used to my weird requests). But he brought back photographs. An album full of them.
Perhaps because I hid it away as securely as I could, the album did not make it to the ‘discard’ pile. Hmm. In the tempest that follows the pain of goodbye I can usually summon up enough energy to burn away every memory, every conversation and every aspect of the relationship that I want to forget. This one escaped the burning fires of my hell.
I flipped through it, mingled curiosity. How odd, considering all the time we spent together, I only have one vague memory of his face.
I first found a few ‘kiddie’ snaps. Playing chess with his cousin, arm-around-shoulders with a classmate, a birthday party, sports day. Furthur in, mum and dad entered the picture, with other family members, holidays, vacations, family occasions. One photograph shot with his mother on the terrace when an extra floor was added to their house. Another of him bent over the drafting board. Kicking around with friends in Connaught Place. A ‘good kids’ shot with his first girlfriend, daughter of a close family friend.
I remember piecing together his life from these pictures, fitting images onto the vivid descriptions he gave. So much that I didn’t know, so many memories! A person is a culmination of experiences and a new chapter starts in both your lives when you meet. But what of the past? Those who’ve loved and been a part of their life before you…have left their imprints on it and it would do well to be acquainted with them.
I didn’t need to ask him to describe his friends and the life he had left back in Delhi. He loved talking about them anyway. And soon I knew the names, the faces, the conversations and the associations well. The life that I wasn’t a part of.
The last photograph in that album used to be my favorite one. An overhead shot of him sitting on the steps of a building under construction, dressed in a cotton shirt with tiny blue-and-white checks and jeans. When I told him I liked that shirt, he took to wearing chequered shirts all the time. 🙂 I carried that photo on my person when I travelled out of the city and smiled at it often. Which is why it was slipped into the album cover at the back, for easy access. It had been put back into a proper holder. I must have done that sometime when I decided that I didn’t want to see him anymore.
I turned the leaf over, thinking how little I felt over the things I’d taken so seriously and treasured so much. Just about to shut it and toss it back in, too indifferent to even trash it.
And then, I found a few more photographs. An impromptu party the day he got placed. I took that pic of him smiling and in the mirror behind him, my reflection, camera-poised was visible. A shot of him cutting a cake that I got with a funny, secret message….which is why he was grinning so sheepishly.
And the last one that wasn’t as firmly entrenched in my mind. In the brief nanosecond I spotted it, I wondered about the gorgeous girl next to him. And then I realised…the girl was me. Damn. I never thought I was attractive then, he never let me believe it. But there I was, all aglow. And it was the very last photograph that we ever took together. The final picture in the album.
Somewhere, somehow, seamlessly, I had become a part of that breathing, pulsating world that was his life. I was in the album with the others and an irrevocable part of his life.
I amputated him and the relationship from my life a long time ago. And I only thought about the pain I felt in letting go, all that I had lost in the bargain because he had been a part of my life. But it never occured to me that I had been a part of his life too. A real, living, breathing person who would have become another unerasable memory.
An album of memories that started with a story of a life I hadn’t been a part of…ended with me as its central character. Ah.