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Life is best in black and white

Not everyone can tell the difference between lies and romance, illusion and magic and the spell of black and white, reports Upala Sen.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2007 01:26 IST
Upala Sen
Upala Sen

I was browsing through, the alumni site of my alma mater after quite a while. The section named class photos had grown. I clicked on the class of 2005 out of curiosity. What did RVites look like now? “You expect them to have green hair and webbed feet?” I let him be, Best Friend was jealous, because his school did not have a website worth the boast.

So there it was, a sharp digital photograph capturing fresh faces, smart hairdos and getups, undeniably-RV rubber chappals… And then I saw the link marked ‘class of 1968’.

What is it with black and white photographs and unending romance?

The sepia snapshot showed a smallish class of 20. No, it had been no common click-and-snap routine for those guys, the entire ceremony of having a class-photograph taken was apparent. The gentlemen wore light shirts, stiff ties, and painfully grownup expressions. The saree-clad young ladies had downcast eyes… “Look, squinting,” came the unwanted interjection. I glared. He missed the point.

Were they squinting? Who knows, maybe the light was harsh. What set the photograph apart from the other, newer one, were these gaps. With black and whites you could fill the gaps with your imagination.

Fill, gaze, fill – till they seemed to talk to you.“You mean like throwing your voice?” The interjector had been frequenting a site called, hence the show off. “Ventriloquism lies to the ear like magic lies to the eye.” So? “So, don’t get carried away by your own lies.”

My mistake. Not everyone can tell the difference between lies and romance, illusion and magic and the spell of black and white. I know because I grew up under the constant gaze of one black and white portrait.

When I was introduced to my paternal grandfather he was already a photograph. His daknam (translation: nickname; transliteration: fond name) was ‘Chobi’ meaning photograph in Bengali.

But I did not know that till much later. I thought that because he lived in a photograph he was thus called. And so he became and remains till date Chobir dadu – the grandfather in the photograph – not just for me, but also for the rest of the progeny. “Give me a name. Quick.” I humoured him, as always.

Within seconds he was seismic with laughter. Apparently, in that split second he went to, fed my name into the nickname generator, had a quick look at the options – nice, rude or get me kicked out of school – and chose the last. And came up with – short double chinned muffin.

To get back to the picture on the wall, so there was a balding Chobir dadu in a shirt, a tie, thick spectacles and a smile that stopped at the eyes. If I was naughty I saw the laughter spill out of them, if I was sad they searched for the perpetrator of the crime.

The night my grandmother joined him the lights went off. I thought it was on purpose – grownups, even when they were photographs, did not want to be seen crying. Some of my earliest photographs are also black and white. I particularly like this one of a me in a Philips carton – it belonged to our first TV set. In it, I am pint sized, with straggly hair and a toothless smile and two deeeeeep dimples on my cheeks. Pause. No reaction. Sigh.

No reaction. Pause, sigh, pause… “Okay, okay, so what happened?” Very soon after that, my favourite uncle came visiting, tossed me in his arms and said “Two delicious dimples. Growl. Let me eat up one of them.” And with that and a hurried peck left me single dimpled for life. I felt wistful. According to dimples indicate wealth and luck.

He closed the laptop, tousled my hair and as he walked out of the door said matter-of-factly, “Actually, half is better, there is more scope for imagination.”

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First Published: Jan 14, 2007 01:26 IST