Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Old photographs

Tuesday, 28th April 2020

-- 500 words
-- Divide your age by half.
-- Rummage old computers or cupboards or annals of memory and find a photograph more than (insert number = half your age) years old that does not have you in it -- can be public memory from internet photograph also
-- Tell us a tale about said photograph
-- Post scan of photograph with your piece

Ancient person that I am, halving my present age takes me to the late nineteen eighties, a time when the spouse and I had three school going children,(the fourth arrived in early 1990), a second–hand Ambassador, and very little money. As soon as I read the prompt, I knew what I wanted to write about today. I also had a memory of photographs of that day, that place. The problem was trying to locate them. Ours is an old household. We have thousands and thousands of photographs of various vintages, kept in various levels of order and disorder. Albums have been raided by marauding daughters, others have been inherited. (Today I discover myriad college time photographs belonging to the older son). The lockdown and current maidlessness and spousefulness of my life leaves me with less time than ever, so Marie Kondo-ing the house remains a distant dream. I had actually, after more than an hour of fruitless searching, given up, and had decided to use pictures from the Internet. I was desultorily flipping through the last bundle of photographs when I struck gold.
Our eleven years in Lucknow had a charm of their own. Although we lived across the Gomti, in a much newer part of the city, Lucknow had more than enough history and historical buildings to remain eternally fascinating. (My grandfather used to work in the Allahabad Bank Chowk Branch once upon a time. On one memorable visit, my father tried climbing up the stairs to the flat above the bank in which they used to live until he was summarily stopped by an irate bank employee).
 One fine Sunday, perhaps in 1987 or ’88, we pack selves, camera, picnic, and assorted kids into the trusty Ambassador. I see my neighbour’s younger son in one photograph. Did our older daughter bunk? Or did she take the photographs? (She has always been a keen photographer). Was this our second trip to the Residency? In family lore, it has become a space of spousely strife. Apparently we fought whenever we visited it. The Residency in Lucknow is one of the saddest places I have ever seen. The Residency consists of a group of buildings, now mostly in ruins, that were occupied by the British Resident at the court of the Nawab of Lucknow. The gardens are beautiful, but the tales of violence it holds are most distressing. Whether you call it the Indian Mutiny or the First War of Independence, the Residency was under siege for months and witnessed a great deal of bloodshed. Scarred walls, bullet holes, walls shattered by cannon balls. It was fascinating, no doubt, but somehow the very walls seemed to hold the cries of the dead, including women and children. It was a terrible, violent lockdown for those families. Our children were happily exploring the ruins, clambering over the huge cannon, now a plaything, once a source of violent death. These photographs hold memories of joy and of profound sorrow, of many lives lost…

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