(Moved to

Dhaka Traffic Blues

Well, the long holidays are over, and the streets of Dhaka are slowly
getting back to their normal frenzy. The horns, the put-put of the
baby taxis, the bewildered stare of the taxi driver as he tries to
interpret the gyrations of the traffic warden, the gentle smile on
the bus driver as he parks the bus in the center lane waiting for the
passengers to offload the chicken coops on the rooftop, the suicidal
pedestrian who tries to cross the road over to Jahangir Tower in
Kawran Bajar, the glee on Asma, the flower girl's face as she spots
me, and skips between two trucks, to my bicycle, knowing she has a
sure sale, the babu in the back seat with the newspaper covering his
face, the blind beggar coughing through the thick black smoke of the
BRTC double-decker are some of the familiar signs that tell me that
there is stability in my life and the world has not changed. In this
season of greetings, and eco conscious, politically correct messages,
I send you a recycled, lead-free wish.

May you find a way to travel
From anywhere to anywhere
In the rush hour
In less than an hour
And when you get there
May you find a parking space

The year has had its usual ups and downs for Drik, but the adrenaline
flowing due to the constant crisis management during Chobi Mela has
everyone hyped up. The big show on the 10th January looms. The hits
in the web site have climbed regularly, and the December total of
105,857 hits is an all time record for us. It's a credit to you all
for having stuck with us for so long.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

May the good light be with you.
Shahidul Alam
Wed Jan 3, 2001

January 3, 2001 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Everything Smelled of Money

Everything smelled of money
In 1994 Shahidul Alam and Drik Picture Library launched a unique initiative which involved training children from poor, working-class families in Dhaka as photojournalists. Their progress since has been remarkable – now 16 years old, the ‘Out of Focus’ children are still learning but have had exhibitions, produced a photographic calendar and are now collaborating on a TV magazine programme for young people. Along the way, however, they have been thrown up against a world of money and opportunity, aid agencies and big business, to which people from their background never normally have access. The NI recorded a conversation about their impressions of this brave new world.

Abir Abdullah / DrikWe remember the time we had to go to some UNICEF meeting or other with Bhai’ya (Shahidul Alam). It was in the Sonargaon Hotel. A huge, fancy affair, where we had trouble walking, where our feet kept slipping on the shiny lobby floor. A different world, the world of the rich. As if that wasn’t enough, Pintu had lost one of his sandals on the way there. We knew we wouldn’t be allowed inside in bare feet, but Bhai’ya told us that there was no need to worry, that everything would be fine. So we walked on that slippery floor and looked everywhere. Everything seemed so grand, everything smelled of money. People throw away so much money! In the middle of the hotel was a swimming pool with almost-naked foreigners in it. We felt too ashamed to look at them.

When you have too much money what else can you do except go to a swimming pool to show off, to say ‘Look at the money I have – I go swimming in a big hotel’s pool.’ The rich and their airs! Coming out with their cars just to show off to us, to the poor, to those of us who don’t have cars. The way they look at us! And their talk: which is better, a white car or a black car? It’s unbelievable, the arrogance!

Abir Abdullah / DrikWhen we go somewhere people usually comment ‘Oh you poor deprived children’. Nonsense! If they grab all the opportunities of course we’ll be deprived. First they take everything for themselves, then they coo ‘Oh, you poor deprived child’. If we are not given a chance, how can we make it? Our speech, the way we talk is offensive to the bhadrolok, the upper class. ‘Oooh, your pronunciation,’ they sniff at us, ‘the way your language wanders all over the place.’

We are poor. But the fact that we have cameras and know how to take photos makes people uncomfortable. And so something simple becomes complicated. People who see us keep asking us ‘Accha, are these the cameras you use?’ But, you see, the camera’s not the point. The point is to take photographs. It doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks that the children of the poor should have cameras. Makes you laugh. Once Bhai’ya took some of our shots to the Lab for printing. The people at the Lab thought that one of the photos was his. ‘Take a look at Shahidul Alam’s work,’ they said. Well, it was actually taken by Iqbal, and when Bhai’ya told them so, they just shut up and wouldn’t say anything more.

Passion for pictures. Rabeya studies negatives while Moli, Iqbal and Shefali look on. Inset are photos of Shahidul Alam with a new group of children from a village in Brahmanbaria – the ‘Out of Focus’ children are helping to teach them photography.
Photo: Shahidul Alam / Drik

Hamida and Rabeya have been abroad. The word has spread. That’s how they are introduced, as having gone abroad. We take photos. That is not our identity however. The point is who has gone abroad.

Yet another way to show off is English. You aren’t anybody if you don’t know English. As if the real thing, the only thing, is not the work itself, but whether you know English. It’s such a fashion to speak it. They say you have to know it, but what do the foreigners know? Shouldn’t all those photographers and all the other visitors who come here know Bangla? Nobody tells them ‘You should know Bangla’.

Through our photographs we want to change things. But lately the going has been tough. With the children of the wealthy it is enough that they take photos, but with us it seems that we have to prove ourselves by learning English too. What will happen to those English-speaking friends who also carry on the struggle? Will they learn our language and join us? Oh come on! Will they not join ranks with us? What then is our language of photography to be?

These comments were made during an informal discussion involving
Faysal Ahmed Dadon, Hamida Akhtar Bristi, Abul Kashem, Refanur Akhtar Moli,
Rabeya Sarker Rima, Sopna Akhtar, Shefali Akhtar Setu and Md Zakir Hossain.
It was recorded/compiled by Manosh Chowdhury and translated by Khademul Islam.

January 1, 2001 Posted by | Bangladesh, Drik and its initiatives, Photography, Photojournalism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ruhul Amin’s Story

The streets of Dhaka looked far from festive last night. The eerie
glow of the sodium lamps lit the mounted police and their dogs. There
were said to be 5000 in the streets. The barbed wire barricades and
the stop searches, put a damper on the marauding young men prowling
the streets, but the packed dance floor at the Gulshan Club seemed
unaffected by it all. The TSC corner at Dhaka University, on the
other hand, was an all male affair. The police presence was not
reassuring enough for women to enter the macho fray.

As I opened the greeting cards that wished me well for the new
season, I kept remembering how different was Eid for the Afghans from
Christmas for the US Marines.

I remembered my delight as a child, when we would look out of the
rooftops for the new moon. We would bathe early in the morning and go
out with our friends, all decked in our new clothes. Alert to the
idea that a few smart salaams could net some extra pocket money.

For Ruhul Amin, in this story by the children of Out of
Focus "Season's Greetings" perhaps has more to do with going back
home to the village, than with Christianity or Islam, or the
celebration of Bangla or Chinese identity.

"I was born in Mirpur, Dhaka, and I have grown up here. When I was 8
or 9 years old, I went to my village home for the very first time. I
loved it there. I met my grandparents from my mother's and my
father's side, and they were very happy to see me. So I asked my
mother, why did you leave everybody here and move to the city?

In the coming days, I wish for you and I, and Ruhul Amin and the
children of Out of Focus, less murderous and warmongering leaders.
Shahidul Alam
Tue Jan 1, 2002

January 1, 2001 Posted by | Bangladesh | 20 Comments