For a personal project I am working on with the very talented Lucy Lee, I asked my parents for photographs of me aged between 7 and 10 and they couldn’t remember if there had any at all.
I remarked, perhaps not for the first time, just how different my upbringing was from my children’s. While every momentous and mundane moment in my kids’ lives is documented, much of my earlier life was consigned to feeble and fallible memory. We only ever saw a camera when there was a wedding in the family. And for a long time I thought that if a flash fell on me, I would be in the photo.
There was one memorable wedding in the family when all there was of me in the entire wedding album were my feet. And I knew they were mine because of the anklets I wore that day and the border of the brown silk skirt that could be seen that was unmistakably mine. But my six year old mind could not comprehend how I had not been registered by the camera when the flash had fallen on me all day long.
At my insistence, my parents went rooting through the cupboards and did manage to gather a small pile of old photographs. ‘childhood snaps’ was the subject of my father’s email which contained the scanned photos (thus condensing all of my early years to a few random moments of shutter clicks). Many of them were from family celebrations and annual class photographs. But there was one in which I stand alone, sheathed in a saree too big for me. I cannot have been more than two years old when it was taken. I look angry, as if I am about to cry. A handkerchief is clutched to my mouth and I am looking away from the camera.
‘Did you see that photo of you in a saree?’, asks my father over a cracking overseas line. ‘I don’t know who took it or why, it’s the best one of the lot’. It was unusual for it appears to have been taken when there was no wedding or any other celebration. It could have been a regular Tuesday morning for all you know. When someone thought it would be a good idea to take a few photos of a child who was growing up too fast and whose childhood was leaving no traces.