By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
In the recent passing away of a humble and almost unknown lady, not many people beyond her immediate family members and relatives might have missed the loss. But to me, who was not her relative, the death of Mrs. Agnes Lilly Abraham at the age of 83, has come as a personal loss and it has opened the flood gates of my memory and taken me back to the days of my childhood and the beginnings of my relationship with her and her family.
She was the wife of Mr. S.M. Abraham, a former school teacher, well-known to almost anyone associated with any of the schools that came under the Mysore Catholic Diocese. He was well-known because his hobby was photography and he was therefore the man who used to invariably be called to take the annual school group photographs in all the schools where I studied. So, he was the man who has photographed me with all my classmates year after year and recorded the transformation in our countenances, right from our first standard days till we passed out of high school!
And, it appears his interest in photography started in the year 1956, on his wedding day, when Fr. Andrew Couple, a French Missionary who was the Parish priest then, not only solemnised his wedding and photographed him and his bride but also presented them with the wedding photographs on the evening of the very same day! That is when the much-impressed bridegroom decided to take up photography as a serious hobby and soon bought his very first camera, an Agfa Billy with his savings. And, although only one out of the eight frames in his first film turned out worthy of being printed, photography soon became a life-long passion for him!
Photography has been my hobby too since my childhood. My love affair with photography which started very early because it was my father’s hobby, and which picked up momentum when I acquired my own Agfa Click III camera when I entered high school, has stayed on with me to the present day. Initially, I was content with just taking pictures and getting them printed at the couple of photo studios in the city, until the Science Club at the St. Philomena’s High School where I studied, started photography classes.
While Mr. Albert Venny, our science teacher who started and headed the club, would deal with the theory part, Mr. Abraham would conduct the practical classes which used to be held in our huge lab late in the evening, simply because we did not have a proper, light-proof dark room! It was in these classes that I developed a profound and lasting interest, not only in photography but also in photo-chemistry at which Mr. Abraham was very adept.
In fact, he was the pioneer and perhaps the only person in the city who then used to employ a photo developer from May & Baker, called Promicrol, which although very expensive, used to give grain free negatives with the best tonal quality, which enabled anyone to make very large blow-ups with them. In fact, in those days, many professional photographers who wanted very high-quality negatives would turn to him to get their films processed.
My growing fascination with photography soon spilled over from our school lab onto the tiny dark room that Mr. Abraham had in his house near the FTS Circle and I started spending time there with him very frequently. To be able to finish our film developing and printing work and yet be in school on time, the two of us would start our work very early in the morning and leave after hanging up our prints and films to dry. That would very often entail that I would simply not have the time to go back home for breakfast before heading to the school.
And that was when Mrs. Lilly Abraham, who was amused by a little boy’s passion for her husband’s hobby, stepped into my life. Being the mother of four children, she would not have the heart to let me go away hungry from her home. So, on every one of my dark-room days, the kind-hearted lady would always insist that I have a proper breakfast before leaving her home. And, I would sit cross-legged on the floor of her tiny kitchen and have my fill with great delight!
She was a very able cook too, who would turn out some of the tastiest dishes with the simplest of ingredients. Her steaming hot, soft, fluffy idlies in particular, used to be a real treat for me because I have always been an idly lover. I still remember the way they used to burn my fingers and yet tickle my taste buds the way no culinary creation did!
Incidentally, her father, Mr. S.A.H. Paul was the post master at the Irengeri post office (located near St. Philomena’s Church) that stood bang opposite my maternal grandfather’s house, where I used to stay as a schoolboy. My grandfather M. Khaleelur Rahman and he were very close friends and they used to spend a great deal of their free time together, chatting and reminiscing about the good old days of their own childhood. Mr. Paul too had a great liking for me, perhaps more so because I was a regular and avid letter-writer, keeping in touch with my parents and my many cousins. So, I would be a regular visitor to his workplace to buy my postal stationery and to pick up for my collection, all the new stamps that would be released from time to time.
He would painstakingly explain to me the workings of the postal system and how the letters we posted would be sorted at different stages before they reached their destinations correctly. And on some occasions, he would even accede, albeit reluctantly, to my persistent requests and allow me to assume the role of his assistant and stamp all the outbound letters from his office with the heavy, wooden handled date stamping seal. It is a different matter that this operation would always leave me with my hands and clothes smeared in black ink, much to the amusement of my cousins and the chagrin of my ever-forgiving grandmother!
The unbounded love showered on me by Mrs. Lilly Abraham and her husband, endeared me to their family and it has remained unchanged between us over all the years that have gone by since the good old days of my childhood. Mr. Venny too, whose youthful appearance has remained unchanged, and who has over the years transformed from being my teacher to my very dear friend, remains close to me even to this day.
After finishing my schooling, when I requested him to write something in my autograph book to remember him by, he wrote: “If you want to avoid a fool, stop looking into your mirror”! That was some very sagely and sobering advice indeed, which is why perhaps, I have never forgotten him and I have preserved his inscription to this day, among my most treasured things!
I met him just yesterday at his house and had a picture clicked with him, by his daughter Anita which you can see here. Mr. Abraham, even to this day, is one of the persons who unfailingly herald the New Year for me with their Christmas hampers. I missed receiving it only this year, simply because I was away with my family on a tour of Rajasthan during Christmas time. And, just a few days after I returned, the humble, ever-smiling lady, with one of the kindest hearts that I have known, left this world forever, leaving behind some very dear memories of her love and affection for me to cherish! I can never forget her. May her noble soul rest in peace!
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