Tuesday, September 06, 2011

When I was going through some old boxes earlier tonight, I happened on a stack of old photographs that I had overlooked and forgotten about. I sat on the floor and spread out the photographs.

Before me was another world. A world that my mother, father, and grandparents belonged to and loved – and often poeticized – and that itself belonged to the past. Not much a distant past because, in some absurd way, I belong to a segment of this past. Who I am is inescapably a consequence of this past that preceded me.

There was a photograph of my grandmother sitting on a chair and behind her was her portable little radio. She looked like she had been caught by surprise in a moment of unreadiness. She was never one to enjoy posing for the camera. I remember sometimes – whenever it wasn’t the news - Umm Kulthoum’s voice on the radio resonating across the house as my grandmother prepared lunch. I had no idea what Umm Kulthoum looked like until one day I saw this woman through the television set standing on stage with her handkerchief reciting in the same voice I heard from the radio. There was an eroticism, in the noble form of the word, that she represented and that later when I grew older, I fell deeply in love with.

That was the television, which represented for me a world of endless possibilities. I was enthralled by its images, sounds and stories. I would wait for everyone to disappear into the kitchen or sit on the balcony and I would take up my favorite hobby – after, of course, playing dress-up in grandma’s shoes and frocks. I was particularly fascinated with old films from Egypt, and I was living vicariously. There was something magical about this melodrama of forbidden love in black and white from the golden years of Egyptian Cinema. But then, I became more interested in colored films from the 60s with the typical virginal heroines and later with the slightly unrestrained women of the 70s. And most of these films, in some way, inspired what cannot be described in words, a certain feeling of sadness - but one that rarely concluded without that glimpse of hope.

And the reason for this excursion? Maybe my attempt to confer meaning on a past that seems to be weathering away, for which I feel a deep sense of regret...

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