The Photograph

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She was unlike any other tourist I had seen around here. I had met her at our street shop that sells souvenirs and beach dresses, and had taken an instant liking for her. Not because she didn’t haggle much, but because she smiled at me as soon as our eyes had met. ‘What is your name? Can I take your picture?’ she asked through her smile, as I handed her the change. I was pleasantly surprised. My first instinct was to say, ‘no’, but I ended up saying ‘yes’. I have been taught to be cautious with tourists, you see. But this one seemed different. I eyed around to make sure mother hadn’t returned from her break. She wouldn’t have liked me getting friendly with tourists. ‘Why do you want to take my picture?’ I asked the woman bashfully, suddenly becoming aware of my seedy clothes and unkempt looks. ‘Because I like your smile and I want to take it back with me. Here, give me a good pose.’ Taking my permission for granted, she stepped back a few feet and began to click. I felt like a film star. I had never posed in front of a camera. Hands on the hips. Face cupped in my palms. A tilt of the head. A half of a smile. I struck them all. When she was done, she showed me the photographs. ‘Do you like them? Er…you didn’t tell me your name,’ she said. ‘Lakshmi.’ I didn’t say anything about the pictures. I thought I looked comical in the poses and nothing like a film star. I wanted to ask her if she could remove them from her camera. Before I could speak, she turned towards the sea and peering through the camera, took a few pictures of it. She looked into the distance again, as if she was conversing with the horizon and clicked more. I had seen scores of men and women do this. Capture the sunset. It was something I had never understood. I wondered what was so special about it. I mean, it is just sun, setting. Something that turns day into night. Nothing more. ‘What are you taking photos of, didi?’ I snuck up from behind and asked. ‘The sunset,’ she said, her eyes flicking between the camera and the sea. ‘Why do you take photos of the sunset? What will you do with it?’ I almost meant to say, it is so pointless to take pictures of an everyday thing. ‘I love taking photos. I store my memories of the places I visit and the beautiful people I meet in them.’ My eyes wandered lazily to the spot of deep orange that was gradually dissolving in the sea. I deliberated on what she had just said – ‘memories of the places I visit and the beautiful people I meet…’ Like a miracle, a thought occurred suddenly. I asked excitedly, tucking my ghoongat behind my ears, ‘Am I beautiful people? Is that why you took my photo too?’ ‘Yes, you are beautiful. Very beautiful. Like the sunset. That’s why I took your photo,’ she affirmed, patting my cheek and giving me a light hug. ‘How old are you, Lakshmi?’ she asked fondly, preparing to leave. ‘Thirteen.’ As she packed her bag and walked into the lights spilling from the wayside shacks, I called out from behind. ‘Didi, will you remember me?’ ‘Forever,’ she said, waving at me. As I waved back, I knew – the sunsets will never be the same again to me.

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