A simple premise: my Grandma’s 80th birthday. My family sits around watching an old, but recently discovered, video of my sister and me, recorded almost sixteen years ago.
On screen, I am little over three years old; my sister is not yet one. I chatter and sing and my heavy childhood lisp slightly distorts everything that I say. My sister squeaks and screams and grins at the camera, but cannot walk or even crawl. Off screen, my family howls with laughter, my not so baby sister jokes (or actually tells the truth) that I still sing just as badly and my second sister comments that she wasn’t even born at the point of this video.
The video is made of snippets of several different days. By the end of the video, in a clip filmed a few months later than the first scene, my little sister has started to crawl and she seems to be in a mad rush to escape onto the carpet, away from the rug that she has been placed on. My appearences have become more sporadic, as I have since started nursery school. My mum appears in the video at one point – congratulations to her, she looks exactly the same. My dad appears several times and my grandparents comment that he too looks the same. My sister and I certainly do not look the same (and it would be a bit concerning if we did). In fact, we are not even the same from the beginning of the video to the end, as we have grown more and more as the video has progressed.
Bahrain is beautiful. Filmed through a dusty window, we catch a peak of green grass against hazy sky, of the tall date palm standing proudly in the front garden, knowing that it really belongs there, in a way that the expat inhabitants can only dream of belonging. Excluding photographs, this is the first real glimpse that I have received of the country that I grew up in, since I last visited over four years ago. The camera pans around the room and my mum takes it on a little tour of our house. In all honesty, I do not even remember the house that appears in this film, as we moved out of it when I was just five. However, our subsequent two houses in Bahrain were exactly the same in layout, and I clearly remember them. And yet, I am still surprised at how big the house on the television is, and five years ago feels like a lifetime away.
The video ends and we are transported back to reality, to my grandparents’ house that has always provided a constant, for us now and for the children in the video. My grandma talks of the past. She tells us about the holidays that she went on as a young woman, to Paris and Venice and Egypt and beyond. She talks of her arrival in England and her childhood in Africa. She tells us about the exulsion of Asians from Uganda and we are surprised to learn that she herself was there, having been previously led to believe that she was in England at the time.
My grandma tells me about the book that she is reading on the history of India. She comments that I love history because she loves history.
My grandpa mentions his own childhood in India. He notes that only one of his (many) siblings was born in Pakistan, with the rest having lived through partition.
The babies in the video listen eagerly.
My grandma cuts her birthday cake. 80 years old!