<%-- Page Title--%> Photography <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 149 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 9, 2004

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

Stories Behind Lines
Mustafa Zaman

"It 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.

His 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.

Any 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.

After 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.

What 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, who

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.

He 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 make money?"

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'.



(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star