Pakistani photographer, author, artist and documentary maker Mobeen Ansari tells Anand Raj OK how the Covid-19 crisis has helped him take a fresh look at life and have greater respect for a lot of things that has been taken for granted.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced working during this time?

I recently relaunched my first book, Dharkan, and its launches were planned in Middle East. At the same time I had assignments and photography trips planned for all of March and April. I was looking forward to all these travels, taking new photographs and back to back activities until a peaceful and long pause in Ramadan. Understandably all that has been put on hold.

As an artist I’m used to working from home half the time so I am actually okay with this routine.

The biggest challenge has been to try and adhere to physical distancing and to convince elders in my family to take precautionary measures.

How difficult has it been to adjust to this new reality?

While this has undoubtedly affected us all in one way or another, myself included, I have actually been okay with the measures put in place. Besides travelling for field assignments or photography, I rarely socialise so this has not been very different. Outside of this though, I am genuinely very concerned for people who are the hardest hit and about the world economy.

How are you and your family spending time? Favourite activities? Exercise routine?

My dad and I walk every day at a nearby park so we have been continuing that. Fortunately this park is part of a green belt so this has not been closed unlike others in the city. I run there few times a week and work out at home.

I usually work out around 6 in the morning, and have breakfast and get ready as late at 8am or so. Despite no real urgency to start work in the morning, I have maintained my daily routine and especially these days have made it a point to get showered and be ready before 7am. This would give me a sense of discipline and readiness and also so that I don’t lose track of time.

What are you and your family doing to manage the anxiety that is stemming from the pandemic?

Fortunately my dad and I can keep sane by going on our daily walks! I also go for grocery runs every few days and I sometimes drive around the block without coming out of the car. My maternal grandmother is living with us these days, so I sometimes listen to her stories and my mother has been “interviewing” her for her life story which may culminate into an autobiographical book form!

I have been using this time working on new sculptures (and challenging myself to make them as realistic as possible) and on practicing more music so I keep maintaining practice of other mediums. I also finally had the opportunity to resume work on my next book, which is a sequel to my first book Dharkan. The photography stage for that had been going on since 2011 so it is only now that I am getting time to actually look at the photographs and compile them. I have finally been getting to read photography and art books I’ve been collecting for some years now and so I’m getting inspiration by looking at works of painters and photographers from around the world. Occasionally I go out to also do photography of empty streets and clear skies.

What are some of the things you miss the most from your life when Covid-19 had still not affected us?

The list is rather long, from being able to travel and to have a weekly brunch with my dad at a restaurant! But I miss shaking hands, doing high fives and hugging my friends and loved ones. I’m hopeful that we will sail through this sooner than later and I wouldn’t have to miss all of these things for too long! 

What will be the first thing you’d like to do once this scare of Covid-19 is over?

I think about this every day and honestly I don’t know where to start! I think the first thing I’ll do is get lunch or coffee at a restaurant with a friend, catch up on all the pending work and then begin making travel plans. I have to remember to take on all this slowly and cherish the things I have missed and taken for granted.

What have you learnt about yourself during this trying time?

I think I have learned that I can be calm and channel this calmness if I really put in the effort. I have learned to be a better listener.

What will be your favourite memory from this experience?

I think I will miss how clean the air has been and how unbelievably long the weather has been pleasant. This really felt like a clean spring. I hope that we become more conscious about pollution. 

One lesson you think the world should remember from this experience.

I think the world has a lot to take away from this experience. On one hand, Corona does not respect borders or economic status and has gotten through to people in the most powerful positions and in doing so, making it even harder for people who already were living with challenges. On the other hand, a few weeks of quarantine has also seen cleaner air and animals returning to some spaces. From this experience, I hope that the world comes out kinder, humbler, and more compassionate. I think my view on this, and the views of many others are best put by Arundhati Roy, when she said this about the pandemic in a recent interview:

‘Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.’ 

The book(s) you are reading at this time.

I am reading The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, again after almost 20 years. I’m also reading Caravaggio - The Complete Works by Sebastian Schütze and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

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