Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 15, November 16-30, 2019


Ranjitha Ashok

Festivities mean feasting, especially if it’s one of the Big Ones, like the one that went by not too long ago.
Festivals also mean families. Which explains why some faces still look a bit stressed, but that could be guilt over the seemingly endless festive bingeing.

But some faces look particularly worn out, almost haunted.

That’s because if festivals mean families, it follows that they also mean fotos… sorry, photos.
Which means that those extra-battered-looking citizens are the Chosen Ones, upon whose heads the task of making family photos happen descends.

Anyone who has attended an Annual-Celebration-of-Very-Big-Festival Family Gathering knows exactly what goes into getting this lot (with all due respect across generations) to work together to get those photos taken.

That’s the key word and the situational Point Zero.

And it doesn’t matter what the ‘content’ is. The family can be a mix of retiring wall flowers, or a strange bunch of oddballs, or a glittering collection of captains of industries and university professors, doyens from various fields of art, even a sprinkling of philosophers… but not one of them will do as they are told.
Which is why the Member-in-Charge-of-Family-Photos needs to be chosen carefully. He/she must exude a strong personality and a steady eye, ‘like Mars to threaten and command’, who can get the crankiest Oldest Member, or by sharp contrast, the most uncooperative toddler, to line up according to height.
And that means Now!

Year after year, this scene plays out and everyone still hopes this year will be better.

It all starts out happily enough. The hostess sees that most guests have done well by the dining table, despite all the protestations that they ‘really shouldn’t’; the new outfits have been exclaimed over and admired; new jewellery (if any in these hard times), cooed over. The “My, how tall you’ve grown!” and the sotto voce: “Whoa! Those hips aren’t lying!” comments are done. So, when the hostess senses a certain restlessness indicating that her guests are now anxious to leave and are wondering if right now is too soon for politeness, she suggests it’s time to assemble for… you guessed it, The Photos.

It’s 2019, so The Chosen One no longer carries a camera. Familiar with this particular group, The Chosen One has assembled a back-up team, a couple of young adults to run interference, to herd errant aunts and uncles back into the fold, stare down rebellious youngsters, and gently remind those whose short-term memories have congealed that they need to be heading ‘that way’ if they wish to be part of the family photos.

These youngsters have also been chosen with care. Last years’ experience has yet to fade. A young person was put in charge, tried to get four generations into one designated garden space, failed miserably, collapsed in nervous exhaustion, and assumed the foetal position in a corner of the garden, refusing to unfurl for several hours. When last heard, he had left home, choosing to trek alone to Mount Everest, deeming that easier and safer.

So, the herding begins. You’d think familial affection will smoothen the process.

It doesn’t.

Put four aunts in place, the fifth suddenly decides she needs a glass of water and disappears. Get eight uncles lined up, the ninth goes missing. He is then discovered gazing at the sweetmeat displays, unable to decide on his third helping, but is quick to take umbrage at being summoned. Diverse cousins chase behind various members of the fourth generation, leaving many concerned about the future of this world. Someone chooses this moment to coo over Facetime at family across the seas – and is hurt that the importance of this moment is not being recognised. Instead, they are being chivvied about to “Come, stand, no? Quickly – everyone’s waiting!”

Then, some Bright Young Things decide to line everyone up outfit-colour-wise, leading to long arguments whether the bright pinks and flaming reds ought to be so close. (Where’s a nice, soft contrast when you need one?)
Just as everyone thinks the group is assembled, a XS-sized aunt is discovered behind the bulkiest Distant Relative, in full martyr-mode for having been called last.

“Doesn’t matter”, the Entitled One sighs, “So what if no one can spot me in the photo? The world won’t collapse.”
Family eye-rolls all around.

Then, just as things quieten down, and practised smiles are being fixed in place, one of the aunts chokes on something. The coughing fit starts quietly enough, but soon begins to resemble a particularly angry thunderstorm, leading to much tumult and chaos, with many voices raised and many bits of advice given, all of which are ignored.
“They made me drink my hot coffee too quickly”, the lady sputters, and everyone nods wisely, not too sure if this makes sense, but please don’t argue…not now.

The heat is scorching; make-up is running, blow-dried hair is curling, and the kids are beginning to whine, push and shove each other. The youngest ones, told to sit on the ground, inform their exhausted parents that the grass is being mean and pokey. The Elders are trying to tell anyone who’ll listen that they are getting….er… too old for this.

Just as the Chosen One is ready to click, everyone notices the sun is in their eyes, so all faces are …well…making faces.

A huge debate then follows on where to stand, and where to look.

Finally, the photos are taken, with an extra few for luck, and the group disperses, thankful for having survived the day. Some are convinced that the shutter icon went ‘click’ just as they were yawning, scolding, scratching their noses, or adjusting sarees…but too bad – too late.

It’s done.

The Chosen One is later spotted sitting in a shady spot all alone, gazing into the distance, thinking long, long thoughts, and drinking several glasses of water.

If there are those among the group for whom all this fuss over photographs (that no one will ever look at after today) seems much ado over very little, they keep their thoughts to themselves.
And so it goes.

Till the Big Ones roll around next year once more.

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