|Photo: Rahraw Omarzad, Centre for Contemporary Arts|
Right from the beginning, they said I was bound to have a career in photography – reporting from Balochistan, understudy for Raghu Rai, doing portraiture of Bollywood stars. You’re not supposed to remember events when you’re that young, but I do: a newspaperman had come to our house to talk to my dad about his music. He had come with a photographer, a woman with a huge, clunky Leica camera around her neck – with a big red button. The Leica people, evidently, liked big red buttons just as much as 16-month-old babies did, and when she leaned down to show me her camera – pop!
I don’t remember the whole event, of course, but I do remember that blinding white explosion. I also remember when she came back a few days later – her face had evidently seared itself into my brain at the same time as the flash had gone off. Although she didn’t have her camera along this time, she did have something else: a black-and-white portrait of a smudged, pudgy little hand, and my left eye off in the background, crystal clear. From out of that blinding light: me.
For a while after that, growing up, I always had an old camera around, a little box my uncle had owned when he was a kid. Mostly I just looked through the viewfinder; film was expensive, after all, and as a child I didn’t have the patience to link the immediacy of making a photograph with the end result after the tedium of printing. So, I’d just stare through the crystal and pretend I was shooting a movie, panning this way and that as imaginary scenes unfolded under the afternoon sun.
It was while looking through that viewfinder one day that I realised that something was wrong. Even as the imaginary scenes remained undiminished, the background, the reality, was getting fuzzier by the day – brighter, but less distinct. Over the course of that spring, everything kept getting brighter and brighter, but with fewer and fewer details. And then, one day – pop. By the time the rains came that year, I could only recognise the sensations of sun versus cloud on my cheeks.
Mostly, that monsoon, I stayed under the roof of our veranda, and that is how I began to play with my father’s veena. I would never have become the player I am today, were it not for that year. Evenings were often raucous at our house, as my father’s musician friends would come to spend a few hours practicing most nights. But the afternoons were always quiet, and in that space my father and I worked to fill up the veranda with sound. The rains would begin soon after lunch, as though calling us to attention – the rest of the family would go to lie down, and together we would create great rolling patterns of colour and hue and grace.
~ This is part of a regular series of Himal’s commentary on work by artists from Afghanistan. ‘Dance of Colours’ is by the Kabul-based Rada Akbar.