The photographs in the envelope

It was close to noon sometime last week. I was at work and wrestling with some pending bills, my least favourite task in the world.

“The morning mail’s here and there’s a packet for you,” announced G, my office assistant as she came into my room and handed a medium-sized envelope to me.

“Personal or official?” I asked, glad for the distraction.

“I think it is personal,” said G as she turned to leave.

“It is. And I know what’s inside too,” I said when I saw the return address on the envelope. “Go, get the others. I think all of you will like to see this.”

Within minutes my office team had gathered gathered around my table and the envelope had been cut open and its contents spread on the table — lots and lots of photographs of my family, many of which I was seeing for the first time.

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

“So many photographs!” exclaimed a team member. “Someone in your family must have been very fond of photography.”

As we went through the photographs, I told them of the two photographers in the family who had taken the bulk of the photos. I also shared the memories and stories behind the ones I could recognise, and how the photographs in the envelope came to be sent to me.

Appaimage (my father) was a keen photographer and his three children (my two older brothers and I) were his favourite subjects. He had two cameras — an Agfa (see photo on the left) and then a Yashica — and the best and the bulk of our childhood photographs were taken by him. Appa would select the best of the photographs and send copies of them to our grandparents and other relatives. Shortly after I was born, the Agfa stopped functioning and a few years later, the Yashica got stolen. Disheartened by this, Appa never bought another camera and gave up photography.

Photos, memories, stories, Black and WhiteThe other photographer in the family was my Athimber (uncle or the term used to refer to one’s father’s sister’s husband in Tamil). See the photo on the right — that’s me with him in Jodhpur in 1982. He was also a keen photographer and took a lot photographs of our family. Not only that, Athimber also collected photographs from all over. This included the photographs that Appa had sent. When Athimber passed away last year, he left a huge collection of photographs behind. It took his son, Suresh (my cousin) and Bala, his daughter-in-law, over a year to sort through the photographs and then mail them to the people they belonged to.

The photographs in the envelope included my parents’ wedding photographs; some of my father (who I always remember as having a bald pâté) with ample hair on his head; childhood photographs of my brothers and me, including one of my paternal grandfather with me on my 1st birthday; and a few photographs from my college days. Most of the photographs were in black and white; few were in colour. All the photos, without exception, were taken with a film camera. Sharing some of them here along with the associated memories, stories and observations.

1. My parents, shortly after their wedding in Madras (now Chennai), June 1956. I love this picture with my mother looking so young and beautiful, and my father with hair on his head 😛 . I still can’t get over how mismatched my mother’s blouse and saree are. I guess it was fairly typical and common to pair a saree with any available blouse then. Even today, my mother doesn’t bother and if it were not for me would wear any blouse with any saree !

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

2. Sridhar, my eldest brother, in Kanpur (1959) and photographed by Appa. Sridhar has a rather serious personality and photographs of him, even as a child, reflect that. This one of him smiling is a rather rare one and I like it for that reason.

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

3. Sriraman, the second of my older brothers, in Kolkata (1965) and photographed by Appa. Sriraman has a cheerful countenance and it is rather rare to find a photograph of him in which he is not smiling or exuding energy. I love this photograph of him looking thoughtfully at something or someone.

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

4. Yours truly in Mumbai (September 1975), begging my mother for a garland to wear around my neck. This was photographed by Appa at my youngest maternal aunt’s wedding. I wanted to be dressed like the bride complete with garland and bridal finery. My mother is out of the frame in the photo and scolding me, while I continue with the whining. This bratty behaviour was unusual, for I was a quiet, well-behaved child. That alone makes this photograph quite memorable.

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

5. That’s me again wearing my first salwar kameez and the biggest smile possible in Ahmedabad (1980), and photographed by Athimber. Many girls dream of wearing their first sarees; I dreamt of wearing my first salwar kameez. I think I asked for my first one when I was about 6 and the answer was a flat and emphatic “no” from my mother. An elderly neighbour, who knew about my desire to wear a salwar kameez, gifted this material to me and told my mother to get one stitched. My mother wasn’t very happy about the request, but couldn’t say no. That’s how I got my first salwar kameez. I loved wearing it that day and on other days as well. Even today, the salwar kameez remains my favourite outfit. 🙂

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

6. My maternal aunt, Baby, and Sridhar in Mumbai (1963) and photographed by Appa. This was the most precious of all the photographs in the envelope for Baby Chitti (aunt in Tamil) died before I was born. I had not even seen a photograph of her for there were none. The only photograph with the family was a grainy faded one with her features indistinguishable in it. Baby Chitti passed away in March 1965 and 2015 was the 50th year of her death.

When I saw this photograph, I didn’t have to wonder who she was; my mother’s description of her was enough for me to recognise her. It was an emotional moment for my mother that evening when I gave her this photograph.

Photos, memories, stories, Black and White

Its been about 10 days since I received these photographs, and have already gone through them a number of times. Each time, I see them I realise how precious they are and how lucky we are to have them.

We lost most of the photographs we had (and many other belongings) when we made the shift from Bhopal to Mumbai. The few that survived only accentuated the absence of the ones we had lost. Over the years, we tried to rebuild the collection by getting copies from relatives and grandparents, but that didn’t always work. These photographs have now been added to our family album.

I also realise how lucky our family was to have our life documented and captured in photographs in the first place. This realisation came when a colleague mentioned, with a wistful look on his face after seeing the photographs, that he didn’t have a single photograph from his childhood for none were taken. His first photograph was when he was 15 and taken for an identity card !

In today’s context, when every moment is a selfie moment, it is difficult to imagine a time when photographs were not considered necessary or important enough. As someone who relies on photographs to support or complement what I write or even let the photographs do the talking, this is something that has made me stop and think.

Do you have family photographs? Tell me about your favourite ones in the comments section.


PS: In case you were wondering about the header photograph, that’s me as a 7-year-old in 1978. I had just recovered from a bad burn on my back and was visiting the temple for thanksgiving. My maternal grandmother had dressed me up and then had this photograph professionally taken in a photo studio at Matunga in Mumbai. 🙂


Join me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as I explore the world around me and share “My Favourite Things” with you.


40 thoughts on “The photographs in the envelope

  1. Some additional information: I got the Agfa Isolette repaired and used it till well into the 1980s for as long 120 size films were available (you could have put a picture of the Agfa also in this post). In fact many of your colour photos were taken by me with the Agfa. I owe my early lessons in photography entirely to the Agfa.

    By the way:The camera is still functional. All it needs is a cleaning of its lens system, 120 film and a lab that will process it :).

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks. Using the Isolette again is in my bucket list. One day, I hope to overcome my inertia and start on b&w film photography again. Hopefully, again, the trouble and expense should be worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I have taken up your suggestion on adding a photograph of the Agfa Isolette. Thank you.

      I checked about getting the Isolette repaired and was told that it is now beyond repair as the couple of spare parts required are not available. Just a cleaning is not enough. 😦

      Like

  2. I had a childhood where my dad loved to take pictures of us. I love raiding my grandma’s cupboard every time I go for a visit. It is full of so many memories, some of them as old as my grandma. We all are suckers for nostalgia, aren’t we?
    Thanks Sudha for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome to “My Favourite Things”, Soumna. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting and also sharing your memories. I’m an absolute sucker for nostalgia, just like you. 🙂

      My grandmother had a little cabinet of odds and ends that I loved to raid as a child. A smooth stones, empty porcelain bottles, strings, and what not. For the child in me, it was like Aladdin’s cave. No one ever thought of taking a picture of it then; today, it would have been photographed and instagrammed and what not.

      Like

  3. Wonderful piece Sudha Mam . My wife and me recently running through a collection of old photographs of the family with the negatives ( remember those were the days of negatives ) almost relived the olden days . Inspiring me to write a blog on this . And whats your Kolkata konnection ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very warm welcome here, Anindya. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I strongly recommend you to write a post on your trip down memory lane. I, for one, would love to read about your memories. Do you remember, it used to be almost mandatory to share photo albums with visitors when we were younger? These days FB and IG have replaced that practice.

      My family has a strong Kolkata connection. My paternal grandparents moved to Kolkata from Karachi after partition. I still have family living there. I suggest that you read this post on my family history tracing, among other things their migratory history. https://thatandthisinmumbai.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/a-sepia-toned-history-of-my-family/ Lots more photographs and memories there. 🙂 .

      Like

  4. Loved, loved the pics and the post of course. I can well understand how emotional you and your mother must have got when you went through the pictures. You have as sharp features as your mother doesn. Beautiful, both of you! I am sure it must have been a voyage of discovery with that envelop! So good of your cousins to have taken the trouble to sort out and restore the pics to the respective subjects.

    My second mama was an amateur photographer and there are some good pictures of me and others from all those years back. Can you tell me how I can convert them into digital form without scanning? I will share some with you.

    One doubt. I thought your eldest brother was Srinayan. Is it his pseudonym?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Zephyr. The photographs in the envelop indeed got all of us quite sentimental and emotional. And it wouldn’t have been possible without my cousin and his wife sorting the photographs and sending it to us.

      I didn’t scan the photographs that I put up in this post. I photographed them with my IPad and edited them for contrast before posting them here. You can also photograph them with a good camera. I prefer to have them degitised in this manner rather than having them scanned.

      Srinayan is my brother’s pseudonym for social media. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This time during my trip to India, my mother shared with me old black and white pictures that used to reside in my paternal grandparents’ house. Upon my thatha’s passing, Paati made sure to sort all the pictures and hand them out to the children. I found pictures of my father in his college days, my mother’s pictures as a young woman, some never before seen photographs of my parents as newlyweds. It was such a lovely way to tell and listen to old stories. I discovered my father had been a very good looking man – this discovery shocked me since, to me, he’s always only been appa. The photographs were a revelation, a peek into the past that I will treasure forever.
    I loved your post Sudha and I loved the pictures even more. It’s nice to see you as a young girl being bratty, it brings to fore a side of you that I have never witnessed before.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’ve said it beautifully, MM. Seeing your parents as people and not just as your Appa or Amma.

      I had heard that Appa had a full head of hair, but to actually see it came as a bit of a shock. My brothers are considerably older than me (13 & 8 years) and while they remember every little thing I did or what I looked like and what I wore, I always felt disadvantaged. It was good to see their photos as kids and not as my brothers.

      I remember a couple of memorable bratty episodes – the one shared here is legendary and everyone in my family remembers it. The other one involved a motorcycle and my youngest mama’; perhaps I should write about it one day. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Sudha,
    Love your photos, it’s such a gem to find them. I love to see old photographs of my parents, my grandparents but somehow I feel a little embarrassed to see old photos of myself. Maybe because I was such a brat! My parents are very old now (Dad is 78 & Mum is 69) and sometimes I do feel wistful when thinking about them and I wonder how they feel about the nostalgia past. Oh I’m feeling tearful now! Thanks for sharing Sudha, such a lovely post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kat, I have shared only the nice pictures here. The bratty ones and the sulky ones and the frowny ones are only for the private family album. 😛

      Surprisingly my mom (she’s 80) is not sentimental or nostalgic and says he has gone past that stage. Sure she misses the old times, but is very much rooted in the present. I guess I’m the sentimental one.

      Thank you for commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yeah, this post makes me nostalgic. I wonder if there was anyone in my family who was interested in photography. Because it is just not the old pics but the way they were documented-not posed, not the usual frames that those who had camera would do, but candid poses. The pics are also decently-composed. The one in your first salwar kameez is a treasure. I love these photos and also carry a tinge of envy for I have none like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bhavana.

      It is only now that I’m realising how lucky I am to have these photographs and how priceless they are. Most people never had them taken, and for many who had photographs have lost them for one reason or the other.

      The photographs in our collection is a mix of candid and posed, but it is not always possible to make out which is which. Maybe it was the skill of the photographers involved?

      It is through there photographs that I have realised one thing: my travel photographs belong to my individual memory, but these people/family photograph are part of a larger collective memory and perhaps that is what makes them so special and appealing to people who are not ‘family’.

      Like

  8. This post is a gem in your collection for so many reasons. First and foremost it’s of course the photographs themselves. They are preserved here and will remain, reminding of those beautiful days. Then there are the stories and memories, which make for such a wonderful read. And then, there is the story behind the photos. You say that many were taken by your father and at a time when photography wasn’t very common. Goes to show how passionate he must have been about it (and grief stricken when his camera was stolen), and also from where you received your love for photography. What also makes it special is the care with which your uncle preserved them, your cousins sorted and sent them. Your family’s past comes alive through this post. Thank you for giving us the pleasure of knowing about it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Atula. I’m so glad that you liked them. I think photographs connect people like none other. 🙂

      I took up photography pretty late, only in 2008 when I left for London. I started very reluctantly and I still don’t know when it became a part of my life. My brothers were more interested in photography, but for some reason are not too much into it today. But yes, I guess all three of us got our love for photography from our father.

      Like

  9. Hey!! It’s amazing when we look today at selfie and digital, how you have preserved the beautiful pics, in black-and-white. It’s a treasure and love them all. Those days are truly priceless and how few in our two piece modest rooms taken. I need to scan them. I am sure your colleagues gushed over them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So happy you liked them, Shekhar. I didn’t intend to write a post. Instead, this was supposed to be a week of memories on IG. But somehow, this morhed into an entire post. Most of my posts get written this way you know – I set out to write something, and I end up writing something totally different.

      Like

  10. I remember sharing the joy of seeing all the old photographs tumble out of the big green envelope when they came by the post. To me the old photos are more than just nostalgia – there is something magical about them. We try to remember ourselves or the loved ones/friends/strangers in the photos and reminiscence about those early days or our past.
    We have lost a number of beautiful photographs with the constant shifting of residences and also, because some members of the family did not feel it important to save the photographs. Many were junked. It is a good idea to ask some relatives if they still have some old family photographs.

    Like

    1. That is really sad, Neena. Losing something so tangible and so precious is a loss that I can completely understand. I think you should not just ask the your relatives about old photographs; you should start visiting them with the purpose of searching out family photos.

      Like

  11. Truly a great article. Photos are the best way to relive the old memories. Even I am an enthusiast of photography; all thanks to my dad and grandfather. We have some great clicks of olden days which we all have a look at when family the whole family meets!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome here, Anoop. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I am realising how invaluable these photographs are with each passing day . While I can’t match the enthusiasm of my father or uncle, I still do enjoy photography.

      I must put together a family book with all the photographs that we have. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

      Like

  12. I was 10. It would’ve cost Rs. 10 to have a picture of mine taken in Kashmiri garb and have it mailed to our home. (No polaroid there!)
    But my dad chose not to invest that money. People say I am lucky I go to go to kashmir at all but the lack of that photograph rankles.
    Yes, I am an ungrateful child, I suppose 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome here, VG, and than you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      Some memories rankle, some memories more so than others. I belong to a photograph crazy family (which I must hasten to clarify is not equivalent to a selfie crazy family) so I can understand how not having the photograph taken in a Kashmiri garb must have mattered.

      And no, I wouldn’t call you ungrateful. Just someone who wanted a keepsake of a very special memory of a very special trip. 🙂

      Like

I'd love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s