I come from a family where our holiday photo albums are preserved with as much importance as heirloom silk sarees or gold jewellery. My father, who is undoubtedly the biggest influence in my life, had an old Kodak camera (a black and white Agfa before that), with which he captured moments and memories which we often look back on. Every page of these albums are marked with dates and years and whenever we are bored, we take them out, look at them and rue the fact that the photo reels (not insta reels) allowed us to take only 35 (if you were lucky 36) photos and they were quite expensive.
We travelled a lot as a family. Much before Instagram made #travelgram and #travelgoals fashionable, we would pack our bags every summer vacation to explore one new destination within India. Any small holiday of 3-4 days or long weekend would mean at least a visit to Deogarh or Shimultala or Puri or Digha. The fancier ones like Kashmir or Nanintal were kept for longer hauls. We travelled in groups, mostly with our family friends and my father’s office colleagues and sometimes with relatives. We shared stories, humour, exchanged notes on books and a year later when we met again during summer vacations, in first class coupes (later AC 2 tier/AC first class compartments) of Indian railways, we began from where exactly we had left off last year. Now when we sit back and talk about these journeys, the memories are not all about only the places and their beauty but also about the never ending delay of schedule on the Himgiri Express and the Antakshari played and caricature acts enacted while passing time. It would be unthinkable that we would spend so much time today waiting for the train to start.
Much later, my father shifted to a digital camera, a rage in the early 2000s. The first one was a Nikon which broke down during a trip to Delhi in 2010 after long years of service. We were almost heartbroken with the prized camera being rendered lifeless. We immediately took it to a store in Connaught Place for repair but were told that something crucial had broken down and it will take time. We had a planned vacation ahead, so we decided to buy another one, this time a Fuji. This one too served a long haul, but we could never get out from the aura of the first digital camera that we possessed as a family. We could never get away from the overwhelming feeling of a camera being capable of clicking as many pictures as we wanted and that we could see them immediately on the display.
Later in life, I had the privilege of exploring another beautiful continent, up, close and personal. I researched and made those customised itineraries with my husband. We did many things which were part of our bucket lists – like getting dunk at the Oktoberfest in Munich, holidaying at the uber luxurious Lake Como or Amalfi Coast or just hike and hike in the Alps. Being my father’s daughter, I tried to document every single thing in life and have clicked tons of photos of these travels. When we began in 2012, we had a Fuji point and shoot camera and all our photo albums got replaced by digital archives on our individual computers. We used to transfer the images through a data cable and voila! it was on our laptops. No need to print or put them on the hard copy albums.
As days went by we saw that our high end mobile could well replace our bulky cameras and they are much easier to carry. Also, there is no need need to transfer and store, as back up is always available on cloud storage. So I might be clicking many on my iPhone and transfer on my iCloud storage and later view them on my iPad.
The digital camera and the data cable which made the Kodak camera kind of obsolete for us, faces a similar future, in a ‘karmic’ twist of fate.
In between, the world had been introduced to the idea of social networking and from 12 photos on Orkut, we had moved on to innumerable album uploads and then instant uploads on Facebook and now ‘for the moment’ stories on Instagram, WhatsApp and of course, Facebook. But the moments of Himgiri Express, the kind that are forever etched in our minds, but never captured on camera, can our clicking mania for Instagram and posed poise with a hashtag in mind, recreate the beautiful simplicity and raw reality of the moments that we have lived in during those train journeys? That’s another side of the story to delve upon and explore, but, perhaps, another day.