I hope Year
2023 is treating everyone well and is going much better than the previous three horror shows.
Thankfully, it's time to get back to
Write...Edit...Publish... for the February Challenge, an instant mood lift anyway if things are looking a bit well, dodgy. And a writing spa to luxuriate in if they're not. Always a pandemic-n-other-pestiferous-stuff-proof space! There are some changes over there, but the essentials remain the same. This entire year we're writing to movie magic prompts, and what could be more appropriate than GWTW for the Valentine month, right?
I have to confess I'm not a Valentine-y person but I have been diagnosed as a romantic (no, they're not mutually exclusive!) and I'm also a great fan of GWTW, all controversies notwithstanding. My entry is another excerpt from the story I posted in December - Chiaroscuro. Not exactly a Valentine flash, but there's a romance lurking in there somewhere if you care to look closely. 😊 I hope you'll enjoy it.
Chiaroscuro II : The Evidence in Black & White
Strange are the
ways the universe chooses to tighten the knots, to yank wandering feet back to
their roots. A chance view of an arresting photograph and a hundred messages
later, here I was, standing in front of the shuttered entrance to the studio.
front room yielded cardstock mounts, vellum paper, frames and a bunch of loose photographs. But nothing that I could
connect with either the grandmother or anything else in your photo. The second
room was partitioned off into three sections. One was the studio set up for
indoor portraits, the reflectors and lights still standing, the backdrops
rolled up ready behind an arrangement of armchairs. But not the furniture I
was searching for. The next was the darkroom, still vaguely familiar to me from
childhood years spent there.
The last was the
storage – full of the quaint old, bulky, leather encased, Bakelite-n-metal look
cameras, tripods of various lengths, lenses in their caps. There were jars of
chemicals too, trays, clips, gloves. A
cabinet with files of negatives, organised by year, the ink on the labels faded,
almost indecipherable. I rifled through a few of them, many were foggy,
many damaged beyond retrieval. And who would want to retrieve them anyway?
more enlargements – portraits and streetscapes, mostly from years ago – the
city in its various moods. The special Sundari trams; wide clear pavements at
Gariahat; a much flatter skyline everywhere, unrecognisable now. A rickshaw-puller
sitting under a lamppost, his face half in shade, the rickshaw just discernible
by the faint gleam of metal where the light had caught the rivets and
rickshaws had been officially banned. The city had switched over to other modes of
transport. A step towards a more evenhanded world. Trams also had vanished except
a couple of lines. Nostalgia washed over me in slow release waves. Not for just the
skyline and the modes of transport. An entire, slower paced, albeit more
unequal, lifestyle had vanished too. I sighed and put them back. Not even close
to figuring anything out.
I only knew
there was something important, some compelling connection that I must uncover. The
more it eluded me, the more certain I became of it. The light had started
failing. I would be back tomorrow, with a fresh mind, keener eye. Tomorrow
was another day, another angle, another chance - who knows what it would bring?
It had rained
early morning, the roads had a film of moisture, a subtle patina mirroring the
comings and goings, the movements of leaves, the backlights on cars.
The building was
constructed in the old 1920/30s style – a set of rooms rising to three storeys
around a central, paved courtyard. Crossing through, I entered Sam Gain’s
living quarters, the corner of the building sectioned off for his own use. A
sitting room, a rather large bedroom and a small one fitted out as a kitchen.
The last was mostly empty - an ancient hob, a rusty looking kettle, a few
In the sitting
room, the glass fronted cabinet yielded a penknife with a real ivory hilt,
yellowed with age; books on photography and fiction, the pages brittle and
similarly yellowed, riddled with tiny tunnels where the silverfish had
burrowed. A set of brass vases, some porcelain figurines laid carefully in a
velvet lined box, the nap gone from the fabric, the corners of the box rubbed smooth. Props for portraits, possibly.
The wardrobe in
the bedroom was cleared, the owner’s clothes had long been given away. A wooden
clothes rack had some anonymous looking stuff hanging, dusters perhaps. I
lifted the ancient silk cotton mattress as a last resort – nothing. Dead end.
“Hey! I can’t
find a thing. Gone through all the rooms now.”
possible? We’ve bunches of photos from there.”
“Yes, I know.
But none of the prints are anything remotely resembling your photos. No
furniture, no vases, no other portraits. The negatives are too cloudy to make
out anything. Storeroom, wardrobe, shelves, cabinets. Looked through
“Have you looked
under the bed? Those old beds are high! They take a trunk or two. My folks had
a few under theirs.”
I bent my head
and sure enough, the light was skirting around an oblong shaped shadow though I
couldn’t see the actual object that was creating it. Eureka! My pulse quickened
as I leapt off the stool, reached in under the bed and pulled it out.
something!” I shouted into the phone in excitement.
“See?" I could hear you laugh. "Okay, I’ll
leave you to get on with it.”
Thankfully, the trunk was not locked.
It revealed stacks of papers, envelopes, bound ledgers, all
arranged neatly in three piles. Tax returns, banks statements, petty cash accounts
for the business, some personal letters, old cards. My excitement gradually
faded. Only the last layer was left now – a couple of manila envelopes right at
The first envelope
yielded some wedding pictures – portraits of the veiled bride, groom and the
ceremonies around the sacred fire. All less than perfectly orchestrated, more
spontaneous, the shots unrehearsed and artless – all the more moving
because of it. I set them aside and pulled out the last one.
A whole sheaf of
photos. The top one was a nude study of a young woman, her face turned away
from the camera, her long hair undone and covering her breasts, the curve of
her hips and calves achingly beautiful. My breath caught in my throat. As I
looked through them, I realised they were all nudes of the same woman as she
grew older, in different poses and settings. The photographer’s eye worshipping
womanhood – virginal, married, postcoital, pregnant, maternal. Each one was heart
stopping in its beauty. But my heart had come to a standstill for a different
reason – as the photos aged, the face slowly became recognisable. It was the grandmother.
WC - 985
Tagline - A bunch of B/W photos can open a can of worms.
Read the other entries here: