Cancer is a grim illness. One day you’re content reading a book, writing in a journal or simply staring at the world go by from your sunny balcony. The next day there’s a lump, a cyst, a mass or a patch that needs a second and third opinion. In what seems like a minute everything has changed, time is limited and life shall go on, but without you living it.
When Abba Was Ill by Adil Hasan is one of those heart breaking books that needs no words to drive its point through. In this, the second book from the Nazar Photography Monographs series, (a project that aims to publish photobooks regardless of whether or not they are of commercial interest), Hasan captures the six most dreaded months in every child’s life – the demise of a parent. A grim subject no doubt, but a powerful work of art in terms of the sensation it gives you of actually being there.
The photographs have been arranged in order, some as singles on a page, others as frames on fold outs. It is a story told purely through pictures, some blurry, others out of focus, many seemingly random and depressing in every sense of the word. But it conveys all you need to know and some things you don’t want to see. It is what it is – a photographer distracting himself from the cruelty of time in the only way he knows.
Shot over six months on Hasan’s old Yashica and Canon film cameras, the photos depict his attempt at coming to terms with his father’s illness. The book starts off with a visual of his father, Mahmood Hassan, a man in his 60s, grey and slightly stooped but not seemingly ill in anyway. However, a haunting image of a girl pointing at the sky sets the tone for what is to come. It is with great beauty and courage that Hasan goes on to depict the turns taken by the illness. Empty passages in hospitals, his father in an oxygen mask and car journeys to and fro on rainy roads.
Of particular note are the pictures of his mother, who we see as strong, caring and supportive. It is with awe that we choke up at the relationship she shares with her husband even as he starts to lose weight, vitality and eventually, his hair. There is definitely an element of spirituality too. You see this most in the images of Hasan’s mother in their balcony, staring at the sky. That the photographs are blurry and bleak only adds to the point they’re making. The images that stay with you most in the book aren’t ones with people, but those that have the lens trained at scenes that are at first seemingly random. These include a purple horizon behind a mosque, a construction ground with debris of brick and concrete, a view of the sky from over a fence at night time and one dark image with a ray of multi-coloured light.
The images in the book require no words of explanation, which is what makes Hasan’s work so strong and poignant. Save for Mahmood Hassan’s epitaph, a few lines of introduction to Adil and the photographs, the only other words in the book are extracts from Mahmood’s diary quoting Epicurious and Rumi. Strengthening the element of spirituality is the final quote before the credits which brings forth the subject of reincarnation.
Next time I shall die
Bringing forth wings
And feathers like angels – what you can not imagine,
I shall be that.
When Abba Was Ill by Adil Hasan is published by the Nazar Foundation and is priced at Rs. 1,000.