I want to continue telling you stories behind some portraits I have captured over the last few years. I hope you enjoyed reading about Rahul in my last post. The protagonist of this story is Iqbal whom I met in Jaisalmer, a world heritage site, also known as ‘The Golden City’.
I knew little about Jaisalmer before arriving in the town early in the morning on the eve of sunrise. I had heard from a friend in Mumbai that it is a place worth visiting and he told me, ‘You should live inside the fort if your want to make the most out of it.’ So I did stay at an affordable backpacker lodge inside this architectural marvel.
Later in the evening, after walking around the town I went out for a few beers at a local cafe (I can’t remember the name right now but it is close to the outer entrance gate of the fort). It was empty, but for me and two Israeli girls. Besides the three of us there was a manager taking orders and Iqbal serving the food.
When you look into his eyes you feel sad and I wanted to capture this emotion in a photograph. So I asked him whether I could take his photo, he agreed instantly. I asked him to sit at the table and then look at the camera, and I got this photograph.
I spent a long time there chatting up with the girls but also speaking with Iqbal whenever he was around. He was a little shy, he did not share a lot. His Hindi was of a much different dialect and I learned from the manager than he comes form a remote desert village close to the Pakistani border. After sunset I left the girls with their privacy to work on some of my photographs form the past few days. While I was at it I came across Iqbal’s portrait and thought to myself, ‘You have got a damn good picture.’
I wanted to know more about his life, there is always a curiosity I develop towards the lives of the people I photograph. Iqbal was shy and did not speak much, but I had to do something to get him talking. On the third day, on my way to the same cafe I printed a copy of Iqbal’s picture, hoping that if I give it to him he would open up a little and he did.
Iqbal told me a few things about his village, his father looked after the camels of a zamindar and his mother looked after his younger sister. Iqbal came to Jaisalmer to study, the restaurant does not pay but instead provide him with a roof over his head and three meals everyday. He studies at a night school, he was 13 years old when I met him, but he was just in the second grade.
As he started opening up to me I asked him a few things about what he learned in school. I was really surprised to learn that he does not know that he lives in a state called Rajasthan, heck, he did not even know what country he lives in. I tried to teach him, but for some reason he did not want to believe me.
I asked him what he wanted to do when he grows up, he told me that he would love to go back to his village and meet his mother. He was not ignorant but I felt that ignorance was forced onto him, probably by the entrepreneurial restaurant owner who does not want to lose such a valuable employee.
I did not know what to do, I still don’t know what to do. I just hope he lives a better life now.