Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Past.ography

There is a certain sadness about passport sized pictures. They envelope such mundane histories with such deceitful, unforgiving precision - dates; purposes; events surrounding the date; the big fat pimple you sported on the date; the foolish hope in your eyes; the bright, licked-and-polished with expectation expression; the eager chin stretched out, a futile attempt at faking confidence; the dress you carefully picked; the holiday weight you promised yourself you would shed - but instead carried with you all these years like a precious memento - adding to it, inch by little inch, so much that it slowly became the last exit, the point of reference of "how thin you used to be"; the perfect hair - you had hair back then; the absurd naivety of even trying to give your best side and your best smile - every one knows that nobody ever looks good in their passports or their driving licenses - but you still tried. How silly of you to try!  

What became of the intent you took these pictures for? Did you become all the things you promised yourself you would be? How much have you achieved? Did you visit those countries you promised you would, when you took that picture with your ears exposed for your passport? Or does it lie in the bottom of a shoebox, waiting for its day of reckoning, when you will cross borders, both geographical and personal. Did you get the job, the one for which you wore that dreadful dust-jacketed jacket the photographer provided, over your clothes, before you were blinded by a flash of reality? Did squiggly worms of absurdity swim before your eyes, as you quickly blinked your rose-tinted pupils back into a delusional focus? Did you pass the driving test? Did you drive after that, go places near and far? Or is your license just some ID you flash at the airport?

There you are, smiling bright, staring down the sudden incandescence of a magical future - a little conscious of the eye behind the camera, the mocking in the voice as they say "Reaaady", knowing that you never are; never will be. That for a fleeting second, despite all your bracing, you will turn into a deer, caught in the headlights of a speeding dream. Startled, you just might blink; your life might flash before your eyes in the backlit, red darkness inside your eyelids. And then you will have to do it again, andagain, andwancemore, andlasttime, till your face turns into wood and your eyes dilate in their vulnerability. Is that how it feels to be exposed? Is that the moment when you are laid bare for scrutiny by apathetic eyes?

The auto driver's license; a much younger clean-shaven face brimming with positivity, respectful and maybe, even good-natured - oh how laughable, the very idea of associating an autodriver with good naturedness - a shock of thick black hair, no spectacles, clean clothes. Dated 2004. The very image of someone who should have done very well. The very image of someone whose precise and uncheating meter, in 2013, should have rewarded him with more than just spectacles, threadbare greying hair, exhausted eyes, rumpled clothes, a nervous eagerness to be of some help - such an anomaly in the world of arrogance and blunt thievery - and this bitchofa hopeful heart.

The expectant bride-to-be. Unsmiling, yet smiling at you from the picture. Innocence outlining her kajal-rimmed doe eyes, making them unrealistically large. Maybe even a little frightened. A lenticular image of bravery and unabashed anxiety. "The boy is from abroad.", voices hushed at those words in reverence and in the sheer disbelief of having this kind of luck. Were there flowers in the hair? I forget, but the hair was decided lush and thick and fell below her waist. Saree with a modestly folded pallu, the colours swallowed by a sepia mouth. But beautiful nevertheless. Dated 1986. There should have been more to it. A better ending to all this than a tattered passport with the one stamp of just one journey, an acrid, brine-filled heart, cropped and greying scanty hair and Thursday novenas to Infant Jesus. And anger, so much anger. So many ways it could have gone right, but didn't. And it all began with an innocuous passport-sized photo. Proof of how it used be. A passage to a sentimental past you're better off forgetting.

As for the person smiling inside your wallet. "ID please?" They squint at the person in the little box, and look back at you, sizing you up, laughing secretly at the erosion of time. All the milestones age has hammered on the continent of your body. You could have won the Nobel Prize yesterday. But your passport photo doesn't care. To it, you're only fatter or gaunter and older and more lined and more bruised and more wrecked by the ravages of time since the day the picture was taken. Oh, these damning documents of time, valid for way too long than it should be allowed. Tenfifteen years of laminated denial, of holding on to a past that is exactly that - long past. Where events, love affairs, relationships, births, deaths, illnesses, promotions, layoffs, economic undulations, governments, coups etcetraetcetra whiz past like trains by an insignificant station. Valid for way longer than the most important and prized things in life are. A headstone for an otherwise ephemeral world. Proof of a youth that slowly dripped out of an incessant leaky tap. How long will you cup your hands under it, fool? Or were you so busy that did you not even notice till it was all gone?
 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thirtied

So I turned 30. finally. After dreading it for no less than 3 years. Yup, ever since I turned 27, thirty has loomed evil on the horizon with sinister red clouds and grey hair. A million 'I told you so-s' and 'where are you headed' hung thick in the air. Oh so much dread and fear and false starts. Not to mention the lies and rumours and the shakes of the heads every time I featured in conversations. So with all that going, I thought turning 30 would be marked by events that often accompany an apocalypse in an apocalypse movie.
I believed that my age would faithfully follow me everywhere, like the Hutch dog. To begin with, I thought my body would be the first Judas. I thought that overnight I would turn into a 30-but-not-married monster. They had me believe that not being married by 30 would have severe consequences. Like becoming a national symbol for shame or the ambassador of family embarrassment. The poster girl of difficult daughters. An indelible black mark on the face of Correya family history. In fact, I thought that I would physically metamorphose into a black mark. I would be a walking, talking, singing, dancing, unmarried black mark. I thought I would have '30' branded on my forehead and every where I went, I would be greeted by large neon signs that would give my age and my dreadful unmarried status away. Oh, the shame! Oh, the dreadful, unlivable, unbelievable, skin-puckering, hair-singeing shame! I would be an age-fugitive. A veritable Jean Val Jean on a biological parole. I could run all I want, and it would be in vain. I would have no references to speak of. Not even the heavens would cast its eyes with mercy upon my ill countenance. I dreaded this for three whole years. Three years marked by the odd silver strand showing up uninvited at the debutante party of a brand new hairdo, copious panic, mundane pondering of the where-is-my-life-going variety (so sameold, sameold!), new and unexpectedly exciting incidents and the furtive shadows of men whom society would have approved of as suitable life partners for me. 
Then I turned thirty. And, nothing! No remarkable changes. None to speak of. No helicopters whirring overhead, following me with a spotlight and a loudspeaker - "Give it up missy! Come out with your left hand out, so that some nice boy might put a wedding ring on your finger and thereby, you in your rightful place." I didn't grow an extra nose or eye or mouth. I didn't turn into a bent old hag overnight. I'm not senile. Yet. I haven't encountered any burning bushes that intimated any sort of wrathful correspondence from my Maker - "You anomaly, you!". My age didn't get announced on the 6 o' clock breaking news. After years of dreading the uh-oh of the big three-oh, it turned out to be more of a ho-hum! So much that I almost feel cheated. I didn't even get to have a party - thanks to a stupid party pooper of a cold. I'm just left with the realisation that I'm finally here. That I'm still standing. That though I might not have my entire life ahead of me, I still have the rest of it to call my own. And that's something to look forward to.