Saturday, June 15, 2019

A long-ago photograph churns up emotions

By Shevlin Sebastian

When my former classmate Ranjan Kamath put up a photo on Facebook, of a few of our teachers, at St. Xavier’s Collegiate School in Kolkata, emotions welled up inside me like an ocean wave. It is a picture taken of them as a group, in 1976, on an early morning, at Park Street, outside the famed Mocambo restaurant.

The angled sunlight lights up the wall behind them, but all of them are in the shade. Among the women, who are in the majority, I can recognise Mrs. Fernandes, Mrs. Mustafi, Mrs Sodhi, Miss Gonsalves and Mrs Stephens. While one wears jeans, another is in black slacks, three are in brightly-coloured bell-bottoms, one in a skirt, while the rest are in sarees. But they are smiling and looking happy. And they are exactly as I remembered them, in their thirties and forties, radiating energy and confidence.

Right in front of the group, sitting on his haunches is the handsome Ronald Gass. His sunshades are resting on his wavy hair, and he wears a brown T-shirt and slacks, with long sideburns, a style statement of that time.

They are about to go for the annual teachers’ picnic on a bus. So, this is a pick-up point. They look ready to have fun in each other’s company.

So how did Ranjan get the photo? His mother Cecelia D’Souza was a teacher and this was in her collection. But she died of cancer two years ago. A heart-breaking blow for him. Others may have died, but I don’t know. One teacher, Rama Singh, lives in New York with her son Arvinder Pal.

They must all be in their seventies and eighties. Their youthful looks must have given way to wrinkles, creaking joints, and a slower pace of life. Has life treated them well? Are they okay financially? Do they have health problems? Are their children looking after them? Or are they now living in an old age home? I had no answers. But the photo confirmed what I knew subconsciously: their influence abides in me, as strong as ever.

When I look at the photo, I am also looking at my own passing years. The student in me is long dead, along with a bit of the innocence of that time. I could not help but think of time. How it never stops, but just goes on and on...relentlessly. As I keep staring at the photo, I have an unexpected reaction -- my throat tightens. It takes me a while to understand why. Just as we students and teachers are moving forward, from the opposite side, Lord Yama, the God of Death is moving towards us, on a horse, his mace held high, waiting to pluck us, one by one. 

(Published as a middle in The New Indian Express, South Indian editions)

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