If you spend a lot of time scrolling through your social media feed then you must have definitely come across some vintage photographs of Shillong which spoke of a time when bullock carts ruled the streets. But have you ever wondered who the person who took all these photographs is? The fact that netizens everywhere can enjoy these vintage pictures is all thanks to photographer Ahmed Hussain and his family who have documented and preserved the century-old photographs of Shillong.
Born on 22nd January, 1934, Ahmed Hussain has captured the essence of Northeast India and its people with his camera for many years now. He even documented the 1971 Bangladesh war. A few years back, he was even felicitated by Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister of the Republic of Bangladesh.
Hussain’s forefathers had migrated to Cherrapunjee, now known as Sohra, from West Bengal. Soon they shifted base to Shillong in the year 1862. They purchased a huge piece of land in Police Bazaar, which is undoubtedly the heart of Shillong. Banks, malls, cinema halls and shops stand on top of this land today. In 1864, they established Golam Hyder & Sons, a big departmental store in Police Bazaar. His great grandfather Khan Bahdur Haji Kasimuddin Mollah, grandfather and father Aulad Hussain were all involved in the family business. Currently, the OB shopping mall has been built over that same land.
His family had also started the first ‘Tonga Service’ between Shillong and Guwahati in the year 1887. The ‘Tonga Service’ was then replaced by a ‘motorcar service’ which was started by his great-grand father in 1906.
Hussain spent some parts of his childhood in Riatsamthiah, a locality very close to Police Bazaar. ‘I grew up in a very calm and noise-free Shillong. It was completely different from what it is today. ’ He talks about a Shillong full of Assam-type houses with beautiful gardens in front of each one of them. ‘The beautiful pine city is losing its picturesque essence to pollution, deforestation, population explosion and more. An exotic hill station covered with dense pine trees, is now turning into a concrete jungle’, says the veteran photographer.
Sometime in late 1950’s when his late grandfather, Mowla Buksh was bedridden due to sickness, he decided to get his grandson married. It was when Ahmed was in his twenties, and his wife was still a teenager. ‘On our wedding day, a holiday was announced in her school. The reason for that was our marriage.’ It was around this time that he found his passion for photography, and it was this new found passion that motivated him to shift base to Kolkata, then Calcutta, with his wife to pursue photography as a profession. There, he was able to establish himself as a skilled professional photographer and did shoots for many reputed ad agencies and brands.
In 1970, he came back to Shillong and established Karuz Studio. The studio is located in Police Bazaar, opposite the old Meghalaya State Assembly. The studio is currently managed by his son Arif, who holds an MBA degree. ‘I am still quite active and involved in the business even though I barely pick up the camera nowadays.’
Even though the studio has withstood the test of time, it is but natural that things have changed over time. Today, the dark room which was once the essence of the studio for processing photographic film is of no use since the process has become digital. ‘The arrival of digital cameras has made the life of a photographer so much easier. Earlier, we only had a view finder to frame our shot and we would have to wait to see the end result. We could only see how it turned out when the film was washed.’ They have also expanded into the printing business and cater to a lot of government clients like before.
So, next time you marvel at the vintage photos of Shillong, do take a moment to also appreciate the effort made by Ahmed Hussain and his family to preserve a little bit of the past for all of us.
By Mrinal Paul
This feature was published in Eclectic Northeast May 2018 issue