Atish Saha probes into the ambivalence of the self
Atish Saha's photographic odyssey, Religion is Personal, is a way for him to examine the limits of the self and its converging points with the community he was born into. The series of self-portraits are actually a mode of semiotic recapitulation of the communal ethos, a meme-like reiteration refracted through an individual mind fraught with unknown emotions. The entire series is brought to bear upon the ambivalent relationship Atish has with his own community and the faith he had renounced at one point in his life. The novelty of expression is not the sole issue here. Each image occasions a rethinking of the capacity of image to address the unaddressable as, in its synecdochical delivery, one is able to read what has been repressed and as such, remained unuttered. This automatic unravelling of the language is of utmost import as it lends the images/signs their lasting power. This politically active and artistically fluent young photographer reflects on the 'self' while a portion of it remains immersed in the discourse of the 'othered'. Following are the snippets he developed as he went about his project.
1. Religion is Personal is about my own identity crisis as a Hindu and also a response to the attacks Hindu communities across Bangladesh have been suffering. It is not that I believe in Hinduism and am sympathetic to any of its variety. But I feel pain if anybody from my birth religion is mistreated because there is a feeling of fraternity I cannot avoid.
2. I was born into a very conservative Hindu family. My paternal aunt had a two-story house, and no Muslim was allowed to enter the second floor. Lower-caste Hindus were also barred from access. I grew up knowing that all humans are not equal; the caste system stood in the way of such an arbitrary declaration.
3. Every time I get news about attacks on Hindu communities living across the country, the first thing that comes to my mind is a question: Is it in my relative's village? I feel extreme helplessness.
4.. We live in a rather volatile time, where both political and social confrontations are arbitrary and therefore futile.
5.. I live in insecurity within my own country, within my own community. The fear of being a member of a community whose declining number (due to a slow but steady migration) is implacably written on our faces and bodies. Fear of my ancestor's religion losing its ancestral dignity creates a subtle ache in my heart, even though I consider myself an atheist. I don't understand this part of me at all. I tried to ask myself many times why I feel such strong anger when bigots who represent the religious majority or majoritarian political parties in Bangladesh, attack minority Hindu families, their temples and businesses, taking advantage of each volatile situation. But at the same time, I do not feel the same strong anger when other minority communities fall victim. No doubt I feel pain, but I know the difference. It's not the same. I feel shame, guilt, and frustration.
6. Being an atheist I should not discriminate against any religion; I should not be biased. I should feel pain equally for everyone who is a victim. I am telling you a secret: it is never possible. The fear of losing one's own relatives is absolutely different from what one feels when others lose theirs. A few days ago, I was a witness to a road accident for the first time in my life: All of a sudden a car hit a middle-aged woman and she fell on the ground right in front of me. At that very instance she lost her leg, which was smashed against the tarmac.
The red colour of the blood was so dense it made me delirious. I was so shocked that I stood there for a while, as if in a stupor, before I could slowly walk up to the victim. Once I did, I was afraid to touch her; and even afraid to take the responsibility of carrying her to the hospital. I had never experienced this before. I just lent my hand to carry her to the vehicle that would take her to the hospital. I did not carry her to the hospital. I cannot forget the face though -- with her closed eyes, she looked helpless. It sits deep in my mind only to reappear from time to time. I ask myself: Were she my relative, wouldn't I have considered it a duty to take her to the hospital? It gives me no solace that she looked like my grandmother.
7. There were many different kinds of flowers in our house, but only few were used for worship. I asked people why some beautiful flowers were neglected while others were chosen for special purposes. Nobody could give me a satisfactory answer.