Installation view, Longitude Latitude 6, Dhaka.
BAKSHO ROHOSHYO (CHOBI, TUMI KAR?)
Vintage contact sheets, magnifying glasses, outline key prints | 2016
Contact Sheets (1953): Mohammad Abdul Mohaiemen
Text (2015): Naeem Mohaiemen
Footnotes: Mohammed Abdul Mohaiemen, Sadia Chowdhury, Suraya Begum
1953, what color are you? The faded yellow of a lover’s lost letter? And your size? The small stamp on a desperate job application?
Father, what pictures did you snap anyway? Did you find Asad’s bloody shirt from the year before? Or did it not even make it to Dhaka Medical Morgue. Why was a surgery student wasting his time on a camera?
From 1950, father was addicted to his camera. First a Zeiss Ikon (1950-1953) he borrowed from his father Emdad Ali, and then a Yashica 35 mm (1953-1959) he saved up money to buy. After graduating from medical school, he joined the Pakistan Army and his camera obsession took a back seat. Transferred to various hospitals while in the Pakistan and Bangladesh Army (Dhaka, Rawalpindi, Quetta, London, Chittagong, Tripoli, Dhaka), the photos were eventually lost as well. As happened to many others. A city that is running so desperately, no time for history...
In 2010, I found one box of his negatives, while searching for the land documents of my grandfather’s house (a house we three families were finally vacating, sadly). Inside was also a set of contact strips printed in 1953. Yellowed, but undamaged.
But who are the people in the images? A long conversation with my father and two aunts about the faces is reproduced here, along with the original contact strips.
Many people in the photos have passed away, and that is as expected. But unnatural death has come to the lives whose shadows pass here. 1953 was a time when a government job salary was enough to raise a sprawling three generations under one roof in Old Dhaka’s Rankin Street. When the tide of Muslim education inspired Emdad Ali to educate seven daughters and three sons (everyone was terrified of Jadav’s Mathematics). After graduation, they went on to health policy, education, linguistics, physics, medicine, and engineering professions.
The generation that are the little children in these photos-- today their adult children mostly live overseas. They are part of the massive brain-drain of the middle class. Nobody could survive in this country on a government job as in Emdad Ali’s time. A hungry city had already swallowed up their homes. When the third generation boarded flights, visa in hand, the last chance for keeping the unified family under one roof was extinguished.
Our intent is not to sink into melancholia . These photos are an archaeological record, and a key to untangling a terrible present. Bangladesh is capitalism with the seat-belts off, driven by a lust to emulate Asian “miracles.” My father’s photographs hint at other possibilities, other lives. This Rankin Street was once our possible future.
[The title comes from a Feluda detective novel written by Satyajit Ray, one of the early books my father bought for me.]