When I was 15, I started writing postcards to my friends, every time I traveled. I am 93% sure I was imitating a character from a TV show hoping that I would too someday carry the same cultural cache. What I hadn’t expected, was how much my friends would grow to like it.
My dad has a cassette collection that he can’t get rid of. His neat print resides on the back of the cases—'Best of Rafi’ or ‘Pankaj Udhas #1’. One glance and I know he loved Talat Mahmood. His taste may have evolved but these physical tapes are proof of his musical roots. As if the things we loved cannot be erased as long as they can be touched and felt.
My father clearly had friends who cared enough to burn tapes for him. When he plays them back, I bet he thinks of them. I don’t listen to Kishore Kumar—I am strictly a Taylor Swift gal—but when I do, I think of my dad. It is incredible to me, the many layers of memories—my dad’s and mine—that can be tucked away on this roll of brown tape. Which makes me sad that my generation, with our Spotify accounts and online playlists, doesn’t have anything similarly tangible to pass onto the next generation.
As if the things we loved cannot be erased as long as they can be touched and felt.
My best friend in fifth standard made me a greeting card for my birthday. She finger-painted it and I was awestruck. We don’t speak anymore but when I now look at the card, all I feel is love. This past year, I ordered a birthday gift for a friend online. When she got it, she texted to say thanks and I didn’t feel anything. In previous years, we have had a tradition of her trying to guess the gift. I would get impatient as she slowly undid the paper. Her confusion and suspense would turn into realization. Her face would light up when she realized what she’d received. Watching her go through that rollercoaster of emotions made me feel better connected to her. It’s not about the object, but the fact that we can imbue said object with a happy memory, a loving feeling, or maybe with time, a feeling of longing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with online gifting but it’s too impersonal and pragmatic for my taste.
When I moved to California, I printed out photos of my friends and stuck them to my wall. It made me feel less homesick. My favourite was that of me and my two best friends. We’re laughing at someone off-camera. You can tell that we were posing moments ago, but there are cracks in those Insta-worthy tight smiles as the laughter burst forth. It reminds me of the photos from my mom’s albums. The people in them are usually mid-blink, badly lit and blurred.
It’s not about the object, but the fact that we can imbue said object with a happy memory, a loving feeling, or maybe with time, a feeling of longing.
We spend so much time with our filters, perfect lighting and ‘38 selfies before you upload the right one’ that sometimes we forget that the digital world is a poor imitation of the real one. My mom’s photos are not perfect, but they are an honest account of a moment lost to time. Perfection, especially photoshopped perfection, is boring. I’d rather have something original—a photo that’s organic, messy and makes me feel like I know the person in it.
I don’t want to take away the internet (as if it were even possible). I spend most of my time on the internet. But in our increasingly digitalized world, I do wish for love, an abstract concept, to be tangible. It’s hard to argue, or doubt that which can be felt or touched. It’s why I love heirlooms. My dadi has these pressed silk saris that she never wears, lovingly folded with paper in the back of her closet. I have never worn a sari, but I want to wear hers. I want to feel the cloth between my fingers and know that it once draped her body. I want my mom’s old oil paintings and grandpa’s empty whiskey bottles. And yes, even my dad’s tapes. These objects are how I’ll carry them.
I’d rather have something original—a photo that’s organic, messy and makes me feel like I know the person in it.
This past year and a half of Zoom-hell has schooled me about the future I want. Social media is not an adequate substitute for real interaction. Text messages are undeniably efficient but rushed. Our lives are rushed. I want a world where I can sit, pen and paper in hand, and take a moment to think about the person I’m writing to. It’s also about the effort. I can’t deny the time it takes to wait by the radio to burn a song onto a tape, or paint a greeting card, or look for the perfect flowers despite knowing that they’ll die overnight. It’s not the life these objects have that matters, it is the effort and love that went into creating and choosing them withstands both the ruins of time and aging.