Fungus on the Filter

FungFiltSlantThe opposite of time is memories. Memories, a span with no beginning, no end, no periods, only nebulous swaths of consciousness.

Memories don’t tumble terminally like the sand in an hourglass. Or tick away with the finality of the arms of a clock: thud, thud, thud…. They are like the fungus on the filter of a lens –shapeless, stubborn swirls of smoke in eternity. They are the ghosts of the times that were and weren’t, of the moments that happened and didn’t, of the events real and imagined, of the emotions aroused, fulfilled, unrequited, yearned. And a collage of them all.

When my kids were small, I used to photograph them month after month, year after year, birthday after birthday, school function after school function, to capture the flight of time. I have in my possession then, and that is all I have now, tiny sparks of the jungle fire they were, their pranks, their smiles, their joys, their wonderment, their brawls, frozen in rectangular frames. They are getting old and big now, and are more composed, as I get older and obtuse. I am past my time, but I have more and more of recollections, fangled and fused.

So, for the old time’s sake, to relive those vanished trices and to rekindle the muted slices, I open the top shelf of my armoire and spread its contents on the divan. The solid black SLR, a muscular Nikon, the many lenses, filters, speed-lights, hoods, batteries and the memory chips, a formidable weaponry for a self-proclaimed photographer in retirement. Then I discover ominous patterns on my favourite lens, and its filter, like drops of kerosene on the surface of a still lake, like gray-white goo in the azure of sky. Like stubborn memories, it’s impossible to get rid of this fog in hues of rainbows, this disease in its terminal stage.

Memories are all this lens would do now. Its time is history’s rime. I can buy a new lens at the stroke of credit even if I am broke, and the filters to supplement it. I cannot buy time though, no one can, pauper or billionaire. I can’t buy memories either. So they will have to remain with me, like precious, worthless memorabilia, quarantined, so that they don’t infect their siblings who are still capable of trapping slivers of emotions for the foreseeable years, yet to run out of roads and sputter into mist. Unto that last, let them garner instants of life, provided the fingers can fumble with them.

For, when you run out of time, all you have is memories. And when you run out of memories, all you have is time, a void divisible in hours, minutes and seconds.

And when I run out of time I’ll be a memory. When I’ll run out of memories I’ll be gone.


  1. “And when I run out of time I’ll be a memory. When I’ll run out of memories I’ll be gone” -marvelous lines Sir, I am touched. A happy Diwali to you.

  2. Memories are indeed such lovely things. As you rightly said that is what remains at the end of the day. I hope I can record most of mine on my blog before my day is done. Wish you a Happy Diwali.

  3. What an exquisite piece, uma. Written with such pathos, insight, subtlety, humility. Loved every heartbreaking line of it. Ah, memories!-help me better to forget!

  4. Marty, you praise me more than I deserve as always. I have been pondering over the passage of time and the litters of memories strewn about. Yes, there are painful shards too.

  5. I have nothing to say that has not been said and better said by others before me here Uma! You capture the bittersweet taste of memories so well in words. May you make a million more memories and capture them as well in words before you become one.

    1. That was but a brief pause and looking back and around, Suresh. Memories are far more complex. We all hope to leave our little footprints decipherable to a reasonable stretch of time. Thank you for that beautiful blessing.

  6. You’ve captured the (sometimes frustratingly) ethereal nature of time and memories so poetically, Uma, and I love how you used the camera’s lens as a metaphor for both. Happy Diwali to you and your family!

  7. This is a post which resonates with me so much. Apart from the photos I’ve got audio recordings saved on the computer, made with much seriousness, by little toddlers. I had an old Video Camera that’s not been used for the last five years. But I spent time last year uploading videos to my Mac and discovered a lifetime of happiness. Of smiling, innocent faces bursting with laughter and happiness. Truly we live our lives in the blink of an eye, before you know it the years have gone by. On another note, random observation, the older kid gets more photographs taken than younger sibling(s).

    And slight off-topic now – I am glad to tell you that , I have nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award on my blog.
    Please check out the following link & go through the rules & guidelines for accepting the award.

    1. Yes, Subroto! That blink of an eye phenomenon leaves us all crestfallen.

      I am doubly honoured by the Liebster, except for the glitch that it stops me from nominating you now! I am yet to answer the previous nomination. So, grant me some time to ‘prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’…. 😉

  8. I know this might be science fiction but I wish we make advances in technology so that one day we are able to extract each and every memory out of a brain in a hard-drive.

    Happy belated Diwali Uma.

  9. How true. Our memory that lasts until the day we become one and finally forgotten is all that we are. Life is so simple, yet we make it so complicated.

  10. A poetic piece. Beautifully written as always.
    Please don’t let yourself be a photographer in retirement. Kids grow up really fast but your twins will always be your little girls. Photograph them as much as you can. I’m sure you can create more memories before you turn into a memory.

    I hope you had a good Diwali. Belated wishes, USP.

  11. Umashankar, a very thoughtful post about memories, photographs and time. I really like your first line and I never thought of it quite that way, but it’s true, “the opposite of time is memories.” Memories are such fragile yet strong threads in our lives. “They are like the fungus on the filter of a lens—shapeless, stubborn swirls of smoke in eternity,” wonderful imagery and such a fitting analogy. Sorry about the terminal state of your Nikon, it’s kind of like losing an old friend. May you have many more photographs and memories. Happy Diwali to you and your family!

    1. Madilyn, our lives are like the sand in the hourglass. Memories move in to fill up the void created by the fast slipping sand. And yes, they are both fragile and strong as you say. That lens is gone through the vicious hole leaving behind a fog of remembrance.

  12. You made me cry 😦
    Every word so true… life sometimes seems cruel with all those memories, and sometimes life’s only bliss is memories. Thanks for writing this beautiful piece.

  13. Beautifully said. It is why we take pictures. We remember places and people from photographs rather than from the images in our head. Our memories are richer thanks to photography. All these long-suffered lenses deserve a special tribute 🙂

    1. It is said some people have photographic memory. For the rest of us photographs are a must. I couldn’t bring myself to dispose off that lens. Thanks for resurrecting the post from the archives.

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