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Posted at: Sep 9, 2018, 1:45 AM; last updated: Sep 9, 2018, 1:55 AM (IST)

So, what does a face say?

Shiju S Basheer’s camera explores old-age and daily life in Indonesia, Vietnam, Middle-East, Africa, India and Europe

Amit Sengupta

I grow old ... I grow old ...

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, TS Eliot

Growing old. The face becoming a wrinkled bark of an ancient tree. The fingers and the skin turning into faded books of forgotten touch, like the yellow pages of sense and sensibility, smelling of  leaves, seasons, forgotten songs and grasshoppers. Lips like the cracked, parched, month of May. Eyes flashing, like a library of knowledge, an archive of oral tradition, a treasure island full of memories.

Old people move into oblivion as newer generations take over, their energy, beauty and aspirations moving into a pulsating cycle of inevitability. No one really cares for ‘roots’ in modernity’s mad rush into the time and space of a new spiral. Amid this, what happens to the bark of the tree, the library of seasons, the memories of open-to-sky courtyards a night sky full of stars and a forest full of whispers? Do they disappear?

Photographer Shiju S Basheer, who lives in Kerala, takes his camera into the mind of the past and captures the essence of fleeting time in the present. He documents the fact that immortality is impossible. His camera explores old-age and daily life in Indonesia, Vietnam, Middle-East, Africa, India and parts of Europe. His camera is sensitive, avoids clichés, reinvents the ritualistic dimension of life, rethinks humanity.

He enters the dignity and restlessness of age and ageing, restores the landscape of the face and the identity of the person, and brings alive the possibilities of a time-future, even when there is a strange and forlorn sadness and solitude stalking his portraits. The beautiful eyes of a woman behind a wooden curtain in Ethiopia could be that of a young or old woman, no one knows. The child in the arms of an African woman is the future of human civilization. The old man sleeping on the stairs in Goa has been left to his tragic fate by his family and society.

And, yet, the young boy walking on a tight-rope at Jaisalmer tells the story of infinite human resilience with the old ‘golden fort’ in backdrop. The flight of birds is also the imagined homeland of optimism; hope floats.

“I draw my inspiration from the enigmatic and magical world around me. Sometimes these are moments of innocence personified, or, moments of sheer beauty, or, at times, the harsh realities of life. Some faces evoke so much pain, solitude and emptiness,” says Basheer.

Unscripted Lives: Photostories is on at India International Centre, Delhi, till September 12

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