Anushtup loved pictures. For him, they were a soft lens into the past, smoothing down the bumps and the ridges, freezing time down to happy faces and nice places. Memories, he always told himself, were different, they carried the bad as well as the good, though mostly the bad. But pictures, no one ever took pictures of themselves fighting or weeping or throwing stuff or lying down in the dark, looking out through the window. They just didn’t.
Yatrik (my forthcoming book, releasing September 2014)
As myriad Facebook albums swim through my NewsFeed, sometimes I just want to wade in and say, ” I get it. Your life is perfect”.
For that is why we share pictures don’t we? I mean really? To project an idealization of our life.
Nothing new about this of course. In late 80s and early 90s when I was young, people didn’t have social media or computers. Which meant they talked to each other instead of to a screen and when you went to people’s houses, they would dig out albums, big bound tomes of floral covers and Kodak photos stuck to the pages, and show you pictures of their trip to Digha or of their daughter who was doing PhD in the States standing in front of Niagara Falls or the wedding they went to where mashima wore that set she got made from AC Sircar and did her hair at Sangam Beauty Parlor (I didn’t want to do it but I just had to), while misanthropes like me, who could hardly care, smiled politely and counted down to when we would take the L20 and go home.
Nowadays of course they just share on Facebook and count the Likes.
I will be honest. I don’t mind pictures. As a matter of fact, I love going through albums of friends and acquaintances. As an author and an observer of life, they provide fascinating insights into human character, interpersonal dynamics, changing social mores, and ideas as to how I should more perfectly project how perfect my own life is through pictures posted on social media.
In the course of my peripatetic peregrinations through the lives of others, as presented through jpeg and png pixels on my screen, I have isolated some tropes, or themes, that run through desi albums. Many of these tropes are restricted to those desis who have settled abroad (they tend to be more demonstrative of their success through gratuitous uploads of pictures, and the simplest explanation of that may be faster upload speeds and cheaper connectivity), while some(e.g. wedding) are more universal.
Any hurting of sentiment is purely intentional.
The car: When desi fresh of boat comes to the foreign, his first car, if bought within a year of arrival,will make it to his album. The one year is the window of innocence, when the fresh-of-boat doesn’t know that a 98 second hand Corolla or a 2000 Civic (even if it has a moon-roof) is the show-equivalent of a HMT watch. It does not matter since his batchmates do not know any better and they will be mighty impressed, but this album is going to be deleted a few years hence. For example, I once saw an album where an alum from an engineering college most famous for producing best-selling authors, had posted a picture of a Hyundai 2003. Now since Hyundais in those days had lower resale value than a Corolla or a Civic, one could get a newer Hyundai for the same price of an older Toyota or Honda, and hence a Hyundai looked newer and more impressive. This aforementioned alum had then posted a caption which said, in essence, “gonna pick up gals”. I know that optimists live longer and have more fulfilling lives but believing tha you will pick up gals purely because you drive a Hyundai is stretching it slightly. Of course the purpose is served because I see loads of comments from batch-mates, without a speck of sarcasm in them, that go somewhat like “Yaar cha gya tu” (You have made it big) and “Aish hi Aish” (Fun and more fun) and “Guruji Tussi Great Ho and perhaps the most obvious “Peeche ka seat ko gandha mat karna” (Don’t dirty the back seat) to which the reply had been a most practical “Leather hai”. (It’s leather).
Some people of course choose not having pictures of cars in their albums. Like me. These are those who either find posting pictures of their vehicles too wannabe or drive lower end Japanese and Korean cars. Unrelated factoid: I drive a Hyundai Elantra 2013.
But then there are many who do post pictures of personal vehicles. The Silicon Valley stock-options type. The finance Wall Street top-MBA-school guy. The BMWs, the Audis, the Infinitis. Some of them may be second-hand but then you can never make that out from the pictures, since they are almost always “certified pre-owned” (which means well polished by the dealership). By this time, most have graduated beyond the most novice technique of captioning car-pictures as “Mauja hi Mauja” on Facebook. By this time, his peers, who also have over the years wizened up, would scoff at such egregious fishing for approbation. The trick then becomes to blend the car into the scenery such that it carelessly stands out. For example, a picture taken from the backseat or front passenger-seat that focuses on the logo of the steering wheel, or a casual family-shot taken outside the car with your hand protectively on the hood. Touching the car becomes imperative if you are afraid someone may think you did the oldest dodge in the book, have a picture taken with random cool car in parking lot. Other strategies include having multiple foci in your picture—a Lexus and a beautiful partner, an Audi and a picture-perfect family, a BMW and an empty driver’s seat, the last one of course if you are actively looking for someone to fill that seat.
Pictures of cars convey a lot of positive information, besides of course financial success. It means you are dynamic, live an action-packed day, (if you are single and have a BMW/Audi an action-packed night too) and have an eye for the fine things in life.
Of course those attributes may be conveyed by other things too—like pictures of bungee jumping, or of sitting in a posh restaurant with your significant other, or training for and running a 5K race.
In the next post we shall look at these in greater detail. And then we shall move on to wedding, honeymoon, pre-baby and baby pictures.