A snapshot of a memory

I get a lot of flak for this picture and all the flak has everything to do with the camera in the picture. I want to get that camera out of the way: Yes, I own a DSLR. No, I’m not a Photographer. Peace?


A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are the first 32: You see me clutching a DSLR, you can’t help but notice the verdant surroundings, you may or may not notice the tiny droplets of rains on the window reflected in the mirror.


The details matter. Everything matters, in the end. The curve in the road, the rough patch on the tree bark, the colour of her hair under the Bangalore sun, the butterfly shades, the blue of the car- was it aquamarine? Was it turquoise? Was it peacock blue? It matters, all of it. Because we assemble our picture of reality from details. Our ideas about reality come from bits and pieces of experience. It is these experiences that we assemble together, forcefully fit together into something that has a consistent narrative - something to reinforce our belief in our reality. We tell stories to ourselves, and to others. These with the passage of time become memories. But memories? Memory is an elastic affair. We remember selectively, just as we perceive selectively. We have to dig through perceived, remembered and experienced events, in order to figure out what really happened and how we want to remember it, how we choose to remember it.


Here’s what you don’t know:

This was a picture I shot one weekend in October 2010. It may have been the second weekend or the third weekend, my memory fails me. Brm, K and I were driving to Coorg.

2010 was a year of heartbreaks. I had returned to India in July 2010. It was Sidkid’s birthday - September 19th - when Brm flew back to India, nursing a broken heart. K was rekindling forgotten friendships and finally allowing time to heal wounds that cut deep. Sidkid was dealing with a personal tragedy.

Remember when we were kids, how we would swoop down, rush in and pull a friend to her feet when she fell? Remember the urgency in the moment to help the friend out? When we didn’t debate and argue back and forth with ourselves if we were crossing lines, overstepping boundaries, bringing down fortresses.  October that year demanded just that kind of swooping down to pull our collective heaps off the floor. One weekend was spent digging into Creatine rich food in Bangalore, on another we drove to Pondicherry, and yet another we almost drove to Calicut.

But it was the weekend we drove to Coorg that I want to remember.

K was driving, I sat next to him demanding chai, Brm dozed off at the back. We were driving through a tiny village dotted with shops, goats and the occasional farmer hitching his lungi and walking the road that never seemed to end. It had started to drizzle and we stopped by a tiny tea shop with asbestos sheets for a roof.

There was something extraordinarily comforting about that moment: the promise of rain, the thought of chai and the warmth of friendship. And really, it takes more than just rain, chai, verdant surroundings and friends to create the rush of sensations that make us feel safe, calm, and cared for. There’s a complex interplay of memory, our own personal histories and quite a bit of brain chemistry, and while some basics apply the specifics are highly personal. For that moment and for now, those triggers of nostalgia will have to do.


The problem is that memory is endlessly colored by our imagination, perceptions and beliefs. If there is a story that we wish to believe, our perceptions will modify what we see to fit our beliefs. We don’t see things for what they are but as we are. We remember things incorrectly or differently, our memories change over time.

The brain creates, omits, confabulates, denies, accepts, suppresses, confuses and even distorts. We may think we see it all and know it all but through our biases - our perceptions - the brain may just be blind to what is actually going on around us. The perfect replica of reality as it is/was won’t exist in our brain and therefore in our memories there is no way to separate what appears as reality from reality itself. The brain is all we have.


We lose context when hurtling through the daily milieu of our quotidian lives. I needed a picture, this picture any picture as an anchor. What has been captured by this interplay of science and technology and light is the only thing that won’t change when everything else does.