The sun was setting and the balcony was losing enough light to make me keep my paint brushes aside. I wanted to finish one last flower before I could call it a day but that would mean getting out of my armchair to switch on the lights and I was too tired to do it. Maybe I’d rest my eyes for a bit and then take a look at the photographs in the box under my chair. Those hazy black and white pictures were posed for with such eagerness and childlike enthusiasm even among the elders, despite knowing at least a week in advance that the photographer would arrive home. At 70, with a back that cracks at any sudden movement, knees that need to be patted awake and hair that is as white as the turban my father wore around his head, my childhood seems like several lifetimes ago.
My mother loved getting dressed up, especially for these photographs. My father, we would call him Appa, would often chide her, probably lovingly, that no one could make out which sari she was wearing and that she should just come along. But she would not listen. She would even tie fresh flowers around her hair bun and then cover them all with her sari pallu. She probably lived her entire life with 5 saris in her wardrobe at a time, a wardrobe that was a metal suitcase handed and used over generations. She’d be ecstatic if she saw my wardrobe today, a wooden almirah with lights inlaid so I can distinguish between the myriad colours. I’ve lost count of how many saris I have. And then there’s yet another one lying here by the table that I am painting. My grandkids are enthusiastic about my brushwork but they’ve never seen my aunt’s brushwork. She was stunning. She’d paint all the pots in the house, even the aangan on most days. And a lot of women from the neighbourhood would call her over to paint outside their houses for occasions and festivals. We couldn’t afford to buy new brushes then, so if her old second hand ones dilapidated into hairless sticks, she would tie a muslin cloth piece at the end of it to paint! She would mix water into some fancy red and white powder she wouldn’t let me play with and create those floor alpanas. She passed away when I was growing up. It was so sudden that my father grew fearful of our well-being, his two daughters and the one son who was fifteen years younger than me. Mother never really recovered from that last childbirth.
The lack of everything, of knowledge, of money, of infrastructure and of ambition was more than compensated by the sense of belongingness to a family, to a town or even just the neighbourhood. We didn’t have much then, barring companionship. I have nothing to complain of today; my kids have taken care of my health, my grandkids spend whatever time their study schedules permit them to and yet despite all the comfort my life is saddled with, I am hunting for that same sense of belongingness. Maybe that’s why I keep sifting through the faded black and white photographs, treasures which have moments captured, albeit planned. Maybe that’s why I keep trying my hand at brushwork. Maybe that’s why I strive to paint yet another sari. So that in some way I can hold on to a past that might not have been comfortable but had made it so simple to be happy.
P.S. This piece is based on a creative writing prompt from http://www.thinkwritten.com. The prompt was as follows: “What does memory lane look like? How does one reach there?”