Monday, July 4, 2011

Stories from a black-and-white photo of a man I wish I knew

A suitcase full of photographs accompanied me back from New Delhi to Austin last Friday. Thankfully the airline was feeling generous and let me check it in free of charge - a sign perhaps that it was the right thing for me to do. It helped calm the nerves as I confess, I felt a little nervous assuming ownership over these one-print-left-only photographs that ranged from my grandparents' parents to my sister's daughter. So nervous was I that after checking in the bag, a flood of new worries took over - what if my baggage got lost in transit? What if someone else were to pick it up thinking it was theirs? What if the plane crashed - well, that would have been truly sad for more reasons than one, but I am glad to report, nothing amiss came to pass. And they are now being slowly digitized, one picture at a time, piecing together the story of four generations of my family.

Amongst these, a set of four black and white pictures caught my attention. I did not recognize any of the faces in them and may have summarily put them away for 'later', when by chance, I flipped them over, and lo and behold, the most marvelous story was unfolded. They were taken by my paternal grandmother (Dadima)'s brother... whom I had never met. In the 1960s, he moved to the United States (Stanford, perhaps) from a small village in India to do a Masters in Agricultural Sciences, I believe. Along with him were his wife and son. The four pictures provide vignettes from their lives... and on the reverse of each, in the most beautiful and concise Hindi language, he has written in great detail the wonders of life in the United States.

The first one (my favorite) is of a lady (his wife) in a sari at a grocery store, wheeling a cart in front of her - a cart which contains many, many things, in addition to her young son. Nothing remarkable about it until you read what he has to say about it. I paraphrase:

"Supermarket. That's what they call really big stores in which one can buy almost anything of any type. Different shelves stock fruit, vegetables, spices, ice cream, milk, and meat - with their prices neatly printed in front. You can pick whatever you want and place them in these carts with wheels, which you can then push around the whole store. You can see one in front of me in the picture!"

The second is a picture of them in the kitchen, narrating the wonders of an electric stove. And the final two are of them using a telephone - and mentioning the modern phenomenon of booking trunk calls (which I am familiar with but is anyone else?!).

I wish I knew him. I wish I knew more stories about him. But I sure am glad my children are going to see these pictures and get a glimpse of life at a time when it was still simple.


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