I look at old photographs and wonder where did life go? My thoughts are not, who these people are or were – I am not curious about their lives as present in the pictures, but more about the future that befell them. Who did they become? What happened to them? I cannot put a picture down without feeling a little sad that I will never know what happened to the characters.
Recently someone posted a picture on Twitter of four Kashmiri women laughing. That was the caption and very much the contents of the image – it showed four young women in beautiful ornate pherans, with daejj on their heads, sitting cross legged in front of a dark background, laughing. Like friends laugh among themselves – merrily and with abandon. As if one of them had said something absolutely ridiculous about the photographer and others had heard it. There wasn’t a frown in sight.
I wonder what became of the women after the photograph? It wasn’t a really famous photograph; I have no idea who the photographer is or who the nameless women are. But I know the photograph was taken in 1986 or thereabout. Did the women live through the 90s? did they have the same experiences as the rest of us? Or did they become someone really important and famous? Or were their lives hidden in the mires of insignificant details of family connections.
Or was this one photograph, now circulating the internet, a special memory. Are they still friends? Do they remember the joke? The immortal laughter? Did they ever walk down the Goni Khan Market and looked enviously at the displays? Or did the store away money to buy novels at the Hind Book store?
Cartier Bresson Henri’s iconic picture of Kashmiri women praying at dawn holds the same secrets. All we know is that they were Kashmiri women who probably climbed a hill (Hari Parbat) for prayers – fajr prayers. What did they pray for? One woman holds out her hands in prayer towards the skies – on that slightly clouded morning in Srinagar in 1948, what did the lady ask for? Was her wish granted?
I look at these old pictures cannot but wonder what happened in the life of these people after that moment. Do they realize how famous their stances have become?
It becomes even darker if you see the pictures from old newspapers of the 1990s. The people, mourning, crying, running or lost. They are nearly indistinguishable from one another and yet hold unique secrets. I wonder if they are alive, if they survived the nineties, because so many didn’t. They were here, where did they go?
These pictures from a different time are a privileged entry into a world which no longer exists. Kashmir and the people, changed by war and fear have very different stories to tell across the years. The women caught laughing in 1986 could have never imagined how the times would change just within a couple of years and nothing would be the same again. I hope they remained friends, however. Perhaps its my longing to know the life of the city before my time, how the people lived before history got written.
The uncertain charm of past moments and the locked mysteries of the climax of the characters’ stories makes me wonder if someone long after see me in an old picture and think what became of me? When these books are balanced, someone might come across a picture fallen off the table and weave a tale around it. Someone’s private life would be scrutinized by a stranger’s eyes. What would I, who secreted so many sections of my life to nameless diary, say to that?