The Camera my Father Held
My father married quite late. He was 36 years old when he married my mother, who was only 16 at the time.
He was the eldest in his family – the responsible one. It was my father who, at the young age of only 8 years old, took his six siblings and parents and migrated from India to Pakistan on a train, leaving everything behind.
Things were rough and my father used to sell ice lollies during the day to help run the household. At night my father used to study under the streetlamp. I don’t know when he slept but somehow, he managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in commerce by studying on the streets.
I think marriage for him was just another set of responsibilities with more mouths to feed. But in the era that he lived he wasn’t given a choice. It was his family’s decision that he must get married and they chose my mother as a suitable bride for him.
He now had two households to run and not enough money in his pocket. It was then, that my father took up photography as an additional vocation. My mother helped him with developing the photos. My parents didn’t have money to hire a studio so they would wait till we children went to sleep and then they developed photos during the night. There was one time when my parents didn’t sleep for three consecutive nights.
In some ways, photography was a blessing because there are loads of black and white photos from our childhood. Some of them hand-coloured by him, others developed in all kinds of pattern. I remember this photo with five circles: one in the middle and four on each corner with a photo of my mother in all of them.
I have his camera that he used in those days – a Yashica 44 or something similar. I have had this camera for years. It’s been hidden deep underneath my clothes far from my reach. I had almost forgotten about it though, only a couple of days ago I have had to empty the chest of drawers and my hands have found the camera again.
This is the first time I have touched this camera after my father has died. It feels strange to hold it in my hands and let it stir uncomfortable memories in me.
My father didn’t smile often. The only time he seemed slightly happy was when we were studying. All his life he had worked hard, and this was the only way he knew how to be. His message to us: having fun is a waste of time and we should work hard like he did.
In 2004 when I was living in Singapore, I invited him to come and stay with me for a couple of weeks. He told me that this was his first holiday in 14 years. He struggled to enjoy when I took him places and he was stunned when I told him that I loved him, and I understood that he did the best he could in raising us. I don’t think he knew how to respond.
I feel his struggles when I look at the camera.
I feel his unhappiness through the brown box that now sits on top of the chest of drawers in my bedroom.
I feel slightly guilty when I have fun. I feel that he is looking through the camera right at me with his serious face and a frown on his forehead.
I long for his smile. I am filled with sadness at how hard his life was and I wish I could replace these memories with moments of fun and laughter but sadly, this hasn’t happened.
I think in keeping the camera hidden, I avoid healing his pain through me.
Very rarely though, I have opened the box and have had a peek inside. It’s a beautiful camera. There is no viewfinder, just a screen at the top of the camera with 2 lenses at the front. From memory, the image appears upside down. To take the photo, one would hold it in both hands next to their belly and look down at the screen at the top of the box. There is no button to take the shot but instead, a sort of small lever that moves down; there is a click when it hits the bottom – the moment of the capture.
It’s an object of beauty just like my dad. Through his dedication and hard work, he showed that it was more important for him to care for his family than to be happy himself. This was his expression of beauty: to make sure that his children have food to eat and an opportunity to go to school.
I hope that he is smiling at me from the heaven. I hope that he sees that his hard work has come to fruition. I hope that finally, in the afterlife, he is experiencing fun and laughter vicariously through me.