We happen to be caught in an age where calling the world your ‘oyster’ seems a little too modest. After all, what does a poor oyster have to offer? The soft flesh of its mouth, or, if you happen to be exceptionally fortunate, perhaps a unique pearl… The point is our world hasn’t become small as to be confined to an oyster. Rather distances have become hilariously less intimidating.
Nothing makes this change feel more real than when the vast majority of us are sitting at home or at work and we open our social media accounts. You are welcomed by a colourful waterfall of memories being made by everyone. That is, everyone other than yourself. It is also possibly the only proof you have of what were once the sacred months of holiday season.
“Of course I like to take tons of pictures whenever I go somewhere,” says the 28-year-old soon-to-be Fulbright scholar Fareeha Rashid. “And it’s not just that it has become much easier to take pictures now, especially in comparison with our parents’ time. I honestly feel that they are the best way to preserve my entire experience.”
A fairly frequent holiday traveller who has enjoyed the world as it went from the reels of Kodak to the memory of an iPhone, she possibly makes for good representation for an entire generation’s point-of-view. She recalls how when they were children each picture that was taken treated like a fragile parcel. The grown-ups made sure that every single person who was a part of the trip to Murree made it in the frame, no matter the cost. One would often realise weeks later that an entire row has been beheaded while the shoes of the toddlers in the front have achieved immortality.
“On the other hand,” she continues, “when I went with Amna (her younger sister) to Turkey last year, we barely left a nook or cranny that we didn’t photograph. It’s like my sister has all of Istanbul in her phone. And honestly, it also makes it easier to remember all the places we went to.”
Although not entirely guilty of ambushing her social media friends’ accounts with her escapades, she does give some sound insight into why a picture is now taken so casually. There you were, minding your own business on your own social media home page, when all of a sudden all you see in your feed is the fun you are not having, the beach you are not bathing in, and the three course meals that you are definitely not wolfing down your throat.
Such blatant displays of greener grass become quite captivating.
Sprinkling this strangely welcome salt in my own vaguely remembered wounds was a vivacious 28-year-old photographer Nashit Noor who practically breathes the mantra, ‘work hard, party harder’. As she poured every detail of her recent trip to Beijing, I should have known she would also do so in the most suitable way possible: by pulling out her mobile phone and unleashing her photo library on my unprepared eyes.
“I got to dress up in traditional Chinese clothes at the Temple of Heaven.”
“That is where we hung out when the day was sunny and the we didn’t have a busy schedule.”
“We had so much fun at the Summer Palace!”
Photograph upon beautiful photograph paired with Nashit’s excited anecdotes showed me Beijing as though I had paid for a flight and gone there myself. But if you give yourself a moment to think about it, would any of these phrases, no matter how passionately they are expressed, mean much without a picture?
A single picture can say a thousand words, but does it not also rob the mind of its right to tell the tale?
Instead of just sitting back to wonder what the old days were like, I decided to hear what the voice of a different generation has to say; 64-year-old retired flight engineer, Ahmed Naveed Khan. Having served in the national carrier from the ‘70s to 2013, he is practically a gold mine when it comes to the travelling experience.
“We took innumerable flights to exotic places,” he says. “Every sight, every sound, the people, the culture, everything was unique to us, let alone the people back home.” As he dove into the arctic cold of Moscow and the vibrant safari of Kenya, I realised something I hadn’t felt with the younger lot. Where the 20-somethings’ photography skills were nothing short of amazing, it was the senior citizen’s words that had me captivated.
As though the tales were not enough, he went to one of his cupboards and started shuffling through a hoard of old belongings. After a few minutes of playful grumbling he pulled out the treasure that was hidden somewhere in the back. In his hands was a thick black hat shaped a bit like the fabled flying saucers. “China used to be exceptionally cold, so we always took these special hats with us.” Indeed it was special. I was having trouble holding it in the humidity of August because of how well it held body heat.
He also showed me a strangely shaped, deep silver coloured tin. I was soon corrected. This was not a tin, but a poly-pan. I was then told that the biggest problem on the flights to Beijing used to be the lack of “edible food”, so the flight crew would carry these special pans with them to make themselves some daal chaawal or other simple alternatives.
While the difference between the China from Nashit’s recent pictures and the one from Mr. Khan’s stories felt stark, it was nothing compared to how they carried their memories with them. One in her pocket, the other in his cupboard.
I may never see the rock in the middle of a stream somewhere in the north of Pakistan. But I will always remember that despite the freezing cold water, that rock sits there, burning hot with steam escaping the cracks in its centre. I know this because the person who told me wasn’t looking at the view through the lens of his camera. He took off his shoes, pulled up his jeans and walked through the stream to touch that rock.
It just makes me wonder if while we became occupied with capturing memories, somewhere along the way, maybe we forgot how to make memories. But then I also remember that whether they felt the world under their bare feet, touched it with curious fingers, or saw it through the lens of their camera, talking about some happy memories lit every face brighter than a 100-watt bulb.