Portrait of a face in peacetime

Amit  SenguptaThe warm and cosy Market Café in the inner lane of Khan Market in Delhi had an interesting visitor in mid-January. He had arrived from the pristine, untouched landscape of northern Afghanistan, the distant province of Badakshan. Here, in this magnificent high altitude wilderness of the Pamir National Park and the stunningly beautiful corridor of Wakhan, surrounded by the Hindu Kush, Pamir and Karakoram mountain range, next to Tajikistan, where even the Taliban did not enter, entered young Anne Feenstra, Dutch architect,  teacher, photographer and compulsive traveller. Here, apart from building the visitor's centre for the park, he discovered two extraordinary, ordinary revelations: the Afghan face in peacetime and the Pakul. Hence the exhibit:  'Afghan Pakul' at the Café.The Pakul is a soft, round-topped men's woollen beret kind of cap, in earthy colours — russet, ivory, beige, twilight grey, sunshine cream, soil brown, rolled and warm on the head. It's popular in Badakshan, Nuristan, Panjsher and Konar in Afghanistan. When a Sunni Muslim prays, his forehead touches the ground — the folded round part of the Pakul provides a soft cushion.And the Afghan face? See the contrast with the young man's face (top left) as a sign of future's hope and dreams. They are all ordinary people, untouched by the many-layered faces of barbarism of the last decades that has ravaged Afghanistan, trying to ride a donkey or trek across the mountains, living a daily, stoic life like an artist's fingers on a canvas: a cop, school headmaster, craftsman, shoe-maker, shepherd, a father worrying about his sick daughter. The lines on their faces like maps and mappings, unfolding their own changing and static realism. “The Afghan face is not only that of a Taliban or an Islamic fundamentalist or a man at war, as is the cliché. It is also these portraits, these faces, of humanity's extraordinary innocence, struggle and resilience,” says Anne. The everyday life of an Afghan face, high up in these isolated mountains, wearing a Pakul, captured by the eye of the camera, in a moment of political unconscious. The exhibition opens again at the Press Club of India, Delhi, on February 15.