all began from an emotional involvement with the elderly,"
exclaims the photographer who had been interacting with
elderly people for the last two years. Tanjilur Rahman's
clarion call came right after he lost his father in December
2004. In a condolence meeting arranged right after that
many of his father's well wishers turned up and had so many
things to say, it made Tanjil realise that he, as the youngest
son of his recently deceased father, did not know him well.
"I hardly had the chance to interact with my father.
Like any other middle class family, in ours too a wide rift
between the father and the sons existed," Tanjil confesses.
father's condolence meeting lasted for four hours. The speakers'
words did not work a gloomy spell on him as they usually
do in these circumstances, rather he was brought to the
realisation that the elderly in our society are treated
as non-persons. Towards these non-persons Tanjil developed
an empathy that set him to record their faces.
face mirrors a state of mind. It also speaks of the condition
that one lives in, and does so more eloquently than words,
as is demonstrated by this twenty-plus photographer. His
photographs reveal a series of portraiture of elderly people
in whose visages signs of deprivation are embedded as if
they are weathered by it. As victims of apathy, all the
pent-up emotions is now wrapped under silence. Old age has
robbed them off the kind of emotional and physical interaction
they enjoyed. Their status as social beings has gone through
a drastic downgrading, as they reached the fag end, and
most of them are struggling to adapt to the state of inaction.
Tanjil reveals their story with a different touch.
interacting with these people, who in real life simply developed
into a different species of sorts, he realised that after
being forced to the margin of each household they once belonged
to, they have nothing to look forward to, no one to turn
to. "All they need is a little care from the family
members. Can you imagine that most of them simply forgot
how to laugh!" says Tanjil, whose images capture a
few intimate moments in the lives of these people.
Tanjil recorded are not only portraitures. He accumulated
the responses of these elderly persons, after they were
treated with respect and, most importantly, with some compassion,
of which little is being thrown in their direction. "I
spent time with them. Each man or woman I met, I spent hours,
or at times, days to make them smile," says Tanjil,
picked up his camera only in 2002, after his father's demise.
"The first batch of
photographs was the result of my exploration of the southern
region of Bangladesh. People are happier here, their faces
pleasant. They know how to smile," attests Tanjil.
later discovered that the more he explored the north, the
more he was confronted with people from whose faces the
signs of happiness simply got obliterated. "In the
deep north the food scarcity is such a persistent crisis
that people, especially the elderly are faced with severe
deprivation," Tanjil says. His physical journey as
well as the journey through the images that he records make
him something of an expert in this demographic. His batch
of photos has a strong anthropological significance.
Tanjil remembers the first
encounter he marshaled with an elderly man. He says, "As
I failed to receive any knowledge or enlightenment from
my father, to compensate for what I was left out of, I began
to interact with Akkas Jamaddar, the oldest person in our
locality." And after talking to this man he found out
the core problem. "It is not that Akkas' family is
downtrodden, it is the unwillingness to care that lent him
his shabby look," affirms Tanjil who set out on his
photographic Odyssey for the next ten months on the trail
of elderly men and women.
It was not easy to strike
up a conversation with the elderly. Tanjil made an effort.
"I spent six days on a man, who at first took me for
someone sent by the NGOs and was unwilling to communicate,"
Tanjil reveals. He was told off by this man, who had said
to his face, "You want to photograph me? You want to
It is always after he earned
the trust of the persons that he could click his camera.
"Without some sort of compassion between me and my
models, the possibility of unmasking the life within him
or her is impossible," says the photographer whose
earnestness made many a hard shell crack.
Tanjil treaded through all
kinds of localities. While he met people who were still
trying to eke out a living and valedictorian who took part
in the 1st World War, his own concept of human dignity and
knowledge went through a change. The one exceptional women
he met goes by the name of Joba, who devoted her entire
life in the service of a man, her husband, who resented
her for no particular reason even while in his deathbed.
“She says that he ended her life with a kick aimed at her,
and the whole community talks about it. Still she endearingly
remembers him,” says Tanjil.
Through his images Tanjilur
Rahman tries to affect a change in the attitude of a populace
who takes pride in being Eastern in its attitude. Because
it means caring for the elderly. But this can only be recognised
as a professed opinion. Reality tells a different tale.
The tale, which Tanjil exteriorised with compassion. Not
only did he give faces to these faceless people, but also
dignity to face the camera as who they are. And the hint
of smile only egged on the idea of the self-pride that Tanjil’s
works initiated. The most important thing of all is that
he recognised their wisdom that often eludes our human gaze
as we are firmly lodged in the area that can be recognised
as a blackhole called the 'generation gap'.