Posing for this extended family photograph, in the late 1940s, are my great grandparents, their two sons, and their brood, which includes my dad (the 9/10-year-old on the extreme left). My grandfather is behind my dad with my grandmother right next to him. Two of my uncles are the other young males in the photograph. Also present are some of my dad’s sisters. My dad’s cousins and uncle/aunt are on the right flank of the portrait. The locale – the famous backwater area of Kerala, India called, Allepey. The perfect setting for a crocodile hunt episode.

A digitally restored photograph from the 1940s

All this, assuming I’ve got my facts right. What I’m pretty sure of is that with the exception of my dad, all the males in the picture, are now deceased and enjoying their well deserved peace and quiet.

It was fun uncovering the subtle things, as I worked on restoring parts of the photograph. Expressions of each person seem to belie the events yet to occur. My grandfather’s hand gently holding my uncle. The same uncle who, in his youth was kicked out of the ardently Catholic family home, when he decided to take up the communist-Marxist ideology.

Then there’s my earnest-looking great-uncle who, as the lore goes, thought it fit to jump into a backwater pond to capture an unsuspecting crocodile (minding its own backwater-pond business) armed only with a small knife and bravado (supported by previous ample ingestions of alcoholic palm toddy). Without a doubt, the toddy was the prime motivator in the series of events. That is but a footnote in what became local history.

Back to the epic battle…the size of the beast varied between 3 feet to 12 feet…depending on the storyteller. In spite of the odds and the sobriety advantage, the crocodile received the worst of it and was strung up as a testament to the toddy fuelled and perhaps unnecessary encounter. To its credit, the reptile did manage to get his tooth prints into the Back-water Dundee’s leg (if I remember the story right). A local legend was born.

Though the siblings were very close, I’m not sure my grandfather has any reptile-hunting credits to his name. However, I attest that at least some affinity for toddy (and similar beverages), if minus the bravado, has been diligently passed down the length and breadth of the family tree.

Original Photograph from the 1940's
Original Family Photograph from the 1940s

As I looked at the photograph and recount these exploits, which were passed verbally, I wonder again as in an earlier article…how future generations will learn about their ancestors. Our zealous cyber activities leave a much clearer trail of our likes and dislike for our descendants. The restoration of a sixty-year-old photograph will probably be replaced by activity such as downloading an ancestor’s bachelor/bachelorette party exploits, from a Facebook-owned data cloud somewhere in cyberspace. It’s certain that time-based data records of digital media – hi-res pictures, text, and video, will make it easier to verify the accuracy of the events. Will there be any need then for the verbal telling of foolhardy stories and quixotic legends?

Nevertheless, there is something captivating about the unverifiable and probably exaggerated accounts of my great-uncle’s questionable actions (crocodiles are now rare in Kerala), that day in a backwater pond. Facts would only dilute the magic of some lores. A 60+ year-old faded photograph, on the other hand, lends itself to wishful enhancements of sundry legends

jacobv
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4 Comments

  1. Amazing that you still could dig out a copy of a photo, probably taken atleast 60 years ago! I must say that you were able to restore the photo because its a print (that too of good quality chemicals which cease to exist now), but our stories will be lost in an irrecoverable media! So far there has been none that is supposed to be robust!

    Nevertheless, an engaging story, Jacob! Loved reading it! Keep going!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Udaya. You have a point. The way things are going, I think pretty soon any images shot with digital cameras will probably be backed up on remote servers ( the server space could be bundled along with the hardware by companies like nikon and sony). Any picture at any day/time could be available to retreive and print/put on local device/media (or printed out from your local store). So if your local copy is lost you could theoretically just logon again to download/print and make a local copy again. All this is probably conjecture at this point. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

  2. Interesting….. and I happen to know quite a few in this including the “Marxist” who was a great artist. I had the privilege of observing him draw a car parked on the other side of the puzha (stream) with a HB and 6B pencil within five minutes. The puzha was the tricky part for us when visiting your house in the early sixties. The approach was only a thin bridge, for which a trunk of a coconut tree served the purpose. The house behind looks like the Tharawad. I am guessing that by the height of the thinna (sit out) as I remember it to be very very high from ground level. One of your aunts was thrilled when we visited her at Edappally last year (she is in the picture but no idea which one)

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