I tell myself he's essentially the same person - those same beloved features that can be traced now with the mind's eye. But the familiar crinkles at the corners of his eyes are missing from the still carefree smile that he's carried over into adulthood. The intent look in his dark eyes with his luxuriant eyelashes that gives him his mildly Byronic, unintentionally serious air, which was the first thing that I ever noticed about him, is already present in this photograph. The hair is almost a golden brown in this evening light, and there's more of it. The posture is one thing that's remarkably different. That ramrod straight back I am so accustomed to seeing slouches ever-so-slightly forward in the photo. The shoulders seem to have become rounded as they so often do with tall people trying to shrink themselves when photographed around considerably shorter people.
What I love most about this photograph is his hands. He clasps them together in a gesture rather frequently seen in school pictures - it's something I remember Chaitanya used to do in class photos, too. To me, it's my favourite thing about him here. This familiar quirk that my brother and this boy from half a world away have in common.
He is impatient for the picture to be taken perhaps. He's probably waiting to go back to play with his friends. In the background is a field of green grass and far off, a mountain. A school picnic in all probability.
I wonder what he must've been like at that age, more than fifteen years ago. I wonder if we'd have been friends had we met then. Likely not. What would we have talked about? At that age, a seven year age difference is unconquerable conversation-wise.
He looks like someone unfinished to my eyes. Like a pencil drawing waiting to be coloured in with crayons. And I marvel at how time sculpts us and we continually morph into different people who are too engrossed to notice its effect until much later. I tell him this and he smiles. The same smile from the photograph in my hands. I want to touch his face and tell him how glad I am for things that time doesn't change. But I can't muster enough courage yet, it would be too intimate too early I think. I decide to look some more at the old photograph instead.
"Look how tall I was at thirteen!" he exclaims. I nod. Outside it looks like the rain has stopped. "Would you like to go get some chai?" he asks. It's almost dawn. The sky is still overcast. But I can see the brightest star in the sky. "I used to look at it from the roof of my house in the summertime." he whispers in my ear. "Me too. It's always there when you look up. Even in Bombay." I whisper back.
I want to tell him what an amazing night I've had talking to him. But the tea is too hot and I scald my tongue. I need to get started with my morning collections. I say goodbye and start to walk away. "Hey Kari!" he calls behind me. "Good morning!" and he smiles. I laugh at that greeting and think to myself that this is a moment I shall always hold in my mind, much like that old photograph that I realise I've forgotten to return to him.
P.S. This was written on 15th July 2011 at 10:38 AM and thought of as too sentimental to put up on the blog. But I suppose tonight I'm too overwhelmed by the memory to care about the sentimentality.