Photos by Abir Abdullah/EPA
NEW DELHI ? Rescuers were searching for survivors on Tuesday after a ferry carrying as many as 200 passengers capsized in Bangladesh, killing at least 24 people with many more feared dead.
Jashim Salam is a Chittagong, Bangladesh-based photographer working for DrikNEWS, an international news photo agency, since 2008. He is also studying photojournalism in The South Asian Media Academy and Institute of Photography. His work focuses on social documentary such as profiles of migrant workers, handicapped people, and climate-change refugees. His work has been published in The Sunday Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Better Photography, CNN, Photojournale, National Geographic online, Reuters, and many others. He is the recipient of many awards including the Jury Special Award in the 6th Humanity Photo Awards.
I was working on a story about?the Brahmaputra river, following it from its source in Tibet, through?Arunachal Pradesh and?Assam in India, right the way to the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. I had been doing it for about three and a half years, and a sail boat was the missing element in the story.
In Bangladesh, there were once over 800 species of riverboats, most of which have now disappeared, largely because of the advent of motorboats and changing lifestyles. But during the monsoon, fishermen still go out to catch a particular fish called?ilish, which is a delicacy in Bangladesh. To the connoisseur, it is the ilish of this particular river that is said to be the only type that matters.
I took a fishing boat along the river from Daulatdia, but at first the light was terrible, so I decided to?wait. I stayed with a fisherman in his home, and we went out for three days. On the third day, as sometimes happens during the monsoon, there was this shaft of light that shone through a small gap in the dark cloud formation. A red sail just?happened to be there, and for several minutes became luminescent. It was absolutely a fortunate moment, but I had been waiting for it to happen.
The fisherman told me that, while the river is very much part of his?life, it is also a very destructive animal. His home, which is very close to its bank, has been destroyed many times. That didn’t deter him, though ? the river is his life. He gave me ilish to?take home, and it was as good as I’ve ever had.
We tend to think of the river as a geographical entity. I think it is much more than that: it is something that connects humanity. My picture captures a fading way of life, unique to the Bangladeshi landscape. CV Born: Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1955. Influences: A man you will never have heard of, who I always see in Dhaka. He and his son are scavengers. I’ve seen him do it for years with a quiet dignity that I admire immensely. High point: There was the time in my life when I had the choice of making an easy living and I was able to resist it. Low point: The death of my brother when I was 15.
The photographs here were chosen by Amirul Rajiv, who has been the photo editor of the Editorial & Forum Magazine of The Daily Star ? Bangladesh?s largest English-language daily newspaper – for the past three years.
The first image shows fresh water coming in from the Bangshi River, to the left, and shows clearly how murky the water of the Turag River has become. The photo was taken from the Amin Bazar Bridge near Gabtali, in the capital of Bangladesh.
Says Rajivl: ?This picture, taken by Anisur Rahman of The Daily Star on June 4, 2010, was published on the front page of the paper . Bangladesh is land of rivers, an agriculture-based country. The rivers have become seriously polluted due to mismanagement by authorities amid the threat of global warming. We published this standalone picture over five columns. Next day, there was huge debate all over the country and a few weeks later the court gave a special ruling to protect Dhaka?s water line and clean the rivers. I choose the picture because it is bold and gives a complete impression of the river?s current state.?
The second image was taken at Kamrangirchar in Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Anisur Rahman and was published on April 7, 2011 on the front page alongside an article headlined ?None Jailed in 10 Years?. It was about the practice of grabbing land from the river for development.
Says Rajiv ?Everyday, aggressive urbanization brings the people from all over the country to the city areas. The city is grabbing the nature and land outside of the city. The city is growing with an extreme need of food and shelter for its people. By destroying the nature, man is creating a natural disaster. Laws are weak. After the picture was published huge pressure grew on the government to save the rivers and protect them from grabbers’ actions. I like the composition and the environmental view it?s taken from.?
Rajiv is an alumni of Pathshala South Asian Media Academy. World Press Photo Foundation is a partner of Pathshala
Can a formal bilateral communiqu? be a ?game changer?, foretell a ?paradigm shift?, in a Southasian relationship? If India and Bangladesh manage to follow through on promises to open up their economies for transit and trade as set out in a memorandum of January 2010, a new era could dawn across the land borders of Southasia. The challenges are bureaucratic inertia in New Delhi and ultra-nationalist politics in Dhaka.
The political partition of the Subcontinent in 1947 did not have to lead to economic partition, but that is ultimately what happened. This did not take place right away, and many had believed that the borders of India and Pakistan?s eastern and western flanks were demarcations that would allow for the movement of people and commerce. It was as late as the India-Pakistan war of 1965 that the veins and capillaries of trade were strangulated. In the east, in what was to become Bangladesh just a few years later, the river ferries and barges that connected Kolkata with the deltaic region, and as far up as Assam, were terminated. The metre-gauge railway lines now stopped at the frontier, and through-traffic of buses and trucks came to a halt. The latest act of separation was for India to put up an elaborate barbed-wire fence along much of the 4000 km border, a project that is nearly complete. Today, what mainly passes under these wires are Bangladeshi migrants seeking survival in the faraway metropolises of India ? and contraband.
Photo credit: Sworup Nhasiju
This half-century of distancing between what was previously one continuous region has resulted in incalculable loss of economic vitality, most of it hidden under nationalist bombast. Bangladesh lost a huge market and source of investment, even as the heretofore natural movement of people in search of livelihood suddenly came to be termed ?illegal migration?. Bangladeshis were wounded by the unilateral construction of the Farakka Barrage on the Ganga/Padma, a mere 10 km upstream from the border, which deepened the anti-Indian insularity of Dhaka?s new nationalist establishment. Forced to chart its own course, Bangladesh concentrated on developing its own soil and society, uniquely building mega-NGOs such as Proshika, BRAC and Grameen, developing a healthy domestic industrial sector such as in garment manufacture, and learning to deal with disastrous floods and cyclones.
In India, the lack of contact and commerce led increasingly to an evaporation of empathy for Bangladesh, which became an alien state rather than a Bangla-speaking sister Southasian society. The opinion-makers of mainland India wilfully ignored the interests of the Indian Northeast, which they see as an appendage with no more than four percent of the national population. The seven states of the Northeast, meanwhile, became weakened economically with the denial of access to Bangladesh?s market and the proximate ports on the Bay of Bengal. Mainland India, of course, could easily afford to maintain its strategic and administrative control through the ?chicken?s neck? of the Siliguri corridor, but few considered the economic opportunities lost to the Northeast over five decades.
Distrust and xenophobia in Bangladesh, the imperial aloofness of New Delhi, and the Northeast?s lack of agency delivered a status quo in disequilibrium in the northeastern quadrant of Southasia that has lasted decades. Unexpectedly, there is a hint of change. A relatively little-remarked-upon memorandum between the prime ministers of Bangladesh and India holds out the possibility of erasing the anti-historical legacy of closed borders and rigid economies.
The floods raging through Pakistan at the moment have affected more people than the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, the 2006 Asian tsunami, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.
An urgent mail from Kanak Mani Dixit of Himal Magazine. Photographs forwarded to me by Salma Hasan Ali:
Hello Shahidul, I think it is important to try heighten sensitivity to the Indus Flood 2010 and the ongoing devastation in Pakistan. People in India in particular may find it difficult to send money across the border, and this Nepal-based facility could be useful. Also, I do not know if anyone is doing specific in Bangladesh, though that is quite likely. If at all possible, please consider spreading work on this facility we have put up, as a means of support. Your breadth of contacts would be vital for this.
Kanak Mani Dixit, Editor, Himal Southasia,?www.himalmag.com
INDUS FLOOD RELIEF
Himal Southasian fund collection drive
in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank Nepal
Himal Southasian and Standard Chartered Bank Nepal have set up a fund in Kathmandu for people from Southasia and elsewhere seeking to support the ongoing relief efforts in Pakistan. Please avail this facility to send money to the victims of flood along the Indus. No administrative charges will be applied to your support; every paisa will be transferred to trusted organisations in Pakistan for the benefit of the flood victims.
Please send support to:*
Account title: Indus Flood Relief – Himal Southasian/SCB Nepal
Bank: Standard Chartered Bank Nepal Ltd.
Branches Accepting Deposit: Any Branches of SCB Nepal network
SWIFT CODE: SCBLNPKA
(Credit card payments may be made straight to the accounts below at any of the branches of Standard Chartered Bank in Nepal.)
Account number for Rupees (from India and Nepal): 01-1859293-02
Account number for USD (from elsewhere): 01-1859293-51
Please refer to the Indus Flood Relief page on?www.himalmag.com for details.
They meander and glide. They unfurl with the rage of monsoon fury. Quietly they flow in the misty winter morn. Rivers thread the fabric of our land. Embroider patches of fertile delta. They are the nakshi kantha of our rural folklore. Life giver, destroyer, enchanter, they have inspired the greatest myths, formed the tapestry for the most endearing love songs. Our Bhatiali has been shaped by the lilt of the boatman?s lyrics drifting across the waves.
It is this fluid, amorphous, ephemeral and elusive visual that Kabir tries to hold in his rectangular frame. It is a frame heavy with the burden of its task. The rivers that float like a gossamer across the green delta hold untold stories. Tales of strife and endurance. Of the fullness of life. Of abundance ebbed, and anger unleashed.
Kabir finds the rapidly disappearing sailboat drifting in the late afternoon light. The extinction of this species owes not to the depletion of its habitat, or to the oft-blamed climate change, but the advent of technology. Oil guzzling, deep tube well engines have unseated the wind from its traditional role.? A lone sail, bright red and taut against a blue sky defiantly throws a gauntlet to the mechanized usurper.
Swirling swathes of jute cleanse themselves in the very water that nurtured them in their youth. Wispy traces of boatmen recede into the darkness of dusk. The cool blue light of the evening sky wraps itself round a homebound farmer. Barefoot women, walk home after a day?s work, like a string of pearls along the sandy shores of a receding river. Parched river beds, like a desert amidst the oasis, make horizon-less paths for weary travelers to tread.
Fishermen, silhouetted against a brooding sky, cast their nets more in hope than in expectation. Overfishing of uncared for rivers, bloated with toxic waste, yield little to those who have made the river their home. Indeed it is their ancestral home. A liquid home that knew no government deeds, and obeyed no official maps. But the rules have changed. City folk whose feet walk only on the cool marble of urban dwellings own fishing rights to rivers they may never have seen. The fishermen who were raised in these waters are now outlawed in their own turf.
Still the river gives. Joy and thrill to the racing crews that steer swiftly through the monsoon breeze. Respite to the sun baked skin of naked boys, sari clad maidens and heavy hoofed buffalos. Turgidity to the parched leaves of the newly planted grains of rice. Looming clouds in azure skies to the poet who longs for whispering words. Winding arcs of sinewy lines to the painter?s canvas in search of form.
The great rivers, once bountiful and brimming, have formed the supple spine of our deltaic plains. Choking in silt, poisoned by waste, waterways throttled by land grabbing encroachers, the lifeblood of our deltaic plains weep dry tears as their once glistening bodies writhe in pain. It is a pain city dwellers are deaf to. A pain that short sighted politicians and profit seeking urban planners have no time for. Kabir rejoices in the vigour of the river. Is saddened by its pain. His portrait of the river shows both its wrinkles and its smile.
Photographs: Kabir Hossain
Text: Shahidul Alam
The exhibition “River and Life” by Kabir Hossain will remain open until the 17th July at the Drik Gallery II from 3:00 pm till 8:00 pm
When Jolly’s son Asif asked me to take a portrait of him and his new bride Rifat, I took it on with grandfatherly pride. The photo session was booked for Sunday morning, the 26th December 2004. Boxing day.
The envelope from Sri Lanka also arrived on Boxing Day. 2006. Priantha and his daughter Shanika had sent me Christmas greetings. I felt bad that I had not sent them one.
I used to love the winding path up to the hilltop house in Chittagong. Zaman Bhai was the chief engineer of the Chittagong Port Trust. One of the few Bangalis in high positions in 1971. It is thirty five years since the Pakistanis took him away, but even many years after liberation, my cousin Tuni Bu would still look for him. Anyone going to Pakistan would be given the task of trying to find out if there was any knowledge of where he might have been taken, what might have happened. One knows of course what must have happened, and I am sure Tuni Bu knows too, but that never stopped her from trying to find out. She was much older than me, and it was my nephews Bulbul and Tutul and my niece Jolly, that I was close to. Atiq was too young in those days to qualify for our friendship. The house had a fountain and the surrounding pool was our swimming pool. It was the only home I had ever known that had a pool. Technically I was of granddaddy status to Jolly’s son, and the young man reminded me of my own happy childhood.
While I played around with the studio lights, Asif told me of the Richter 9 earthquake that had hit Bangladesh. Of course I didn’t believe him. Richter 9 is big and there simply couldn’t have been an earthquake of such magnitude without anyone registering it. But I did turn on the news immediately after the portrait session, and the enormity of the disaster slowly sank in. I rang Rahnuma and asked her to turn on the television, and went back to work. By then however, the news of the carnage in places thousands of miles away started coming across the airwaves.
The next day the numbers steadily rose from the hundreds to thousands and we were glued to the set. Though we hadn’t said it out aloud to each other, both Rahnuma and I knew I had to go. BRAC had organized a training for women journalists in their centre in Rajendrapur on the 28th. I had committed myself to the training some time ago and couldn’t really bail out in the last minute. On the way I heard from Arri that my friend in Colombo Chulie de Silva was missing. I kept losing the signal on my Grameen mobile phone on my way to and from Rajendrapur, but near Dhaka I managed to get text messages through. Chuli was safe, but her brother had died.
Babu Bhai managed to get me a flight the next day via Bangkok. I had posted an angry message in ShahidulNews in response to the tourist centric reporting in mainstream media and many friends responded. Margot Klingsporn from Focus in Hamburg wired me some money. Not waiting for the money to arrive, I gathered the foreign currency I could lay my hands on, packed a digital camera and a video camera along with my trusted Nikon F5 and left. That was when I made friends with Shanika.
It was Chulie who helped trace her. She had heard my story and wrote to me that she had found a “Shanika Cafe” near Hikkaduwa. We had gone out together in search of the girl. When we did find Shanika and her dad Priantha, she rushed to my arms.
Through Chulie’s translations Priantha told me that Shanika had been withdrawn and wouldn’t relate to people. It was our friendship that had brought out the little girl.
More than the wreckage and the rotting flesh,
I remember the mother in the refugee camp stealing a kiss from her new born child.
I remember the family sitting in the wreckage of their home in Hikkaduwa, going through the family album.
I remember the devotees returning to the Shrine of Our Lady of Matara Church to pray.
As a photojournalist we are touched by, and touch many people’s lives. Sometimes – not often – we are able to make a difference. But invariably we move on. On to another disaster, another success, another story in the making. The Shanikas of our stories, become yet more stepping stones in our career path, and the Christmas cards flow only in one direction.
Bonna sang beautifully last night at the launch of the new UNESCO office. ?megher pore megh jomeche?. A haunting song by Tagore. The lilt in her voice and its delicate quiver, like the changing light in the wet leaves in the rain. The monsoons are here. It is my birthday today, and my treat to myself was to tear myself away from my laptop and take a walk in the rain in the morning, camera in hand. I came across this working mother carrying her child, delivering food to wealthy homes. The land she walked on would fetch well over three million dollars an acre in current market prices. About the cost of the diamonds in Prince Moosa?s shoes.
? Shahidul Alam/Drik
It is also Nasreen?schollisha (forty days after death, significant to Muslims). Rahnuma and the others have joined her family at the family graveyard at Ghazipur. The sky is still crying.
And then there is happy news. The National Geographic just informed us that Omi (Saiful Huq, my research assistant at Drik and a Pathshala alumni) is one of the four awardees of their All Roads Project. Sucheta Das, who works closely with Drik India won an honourable mention. Omi will be feted in Hollywood and the National Geographic Office in Washington DC. They are both over the moon, as indeed I am, having nominated them. It was Pathshala alumni Neo Ntsoma last year. Pressure is on for the hat-trick. Unless they arrest me for nepotism.
Here is an introduction to the photographers:
Saiful Huq is a thinking photographer. While his power of visualisation has never been in doubt, it is the reason that he photographs that is more compelling. The trappings of conventional photojournalism lay heavy on all of us. The play of light, the use of lines, the geometry of the image are all seductive. But Huq takes us beyond the dynamics of image construction. It is his concerns as an individual that his photographs give us an insight to. The urge to show the helpless victim, the tearjerker image that looms large on billboards, are often the first choice of photojournalists trying to make their mark. That a young photographer has been able to resist those easy options says a lot about Huq.
? Saiful Huq
His is a reflective stance, not a judgemental one. And in showing the plight of victims of meaningless violence, he chooses not to show them as victims, but as people who find themselves in a strange unfamiliar land. One they have never had to deal with before. It is the humanity of his images rather than the power of their construction that is central to his images. The visual strength is a bonus.
It is not often that a woman in a majority world country gets a job in a wire agency. It is even more rare to find a woman who gives it up to take the risk of going freelance. Shortly after winning an award at World Press Photo, when she was riding high, this young woman decided to give up the glamour and the pay, to return to her native Kolkata and try to find her own way to work. No guarantees, no press pass. Just she and her camera. It was a brave decision to take, but I believe the right one. If success can be predicted, then talent, guts, and sensitivity make up the right mix for a photographer to evolve into more than being a chronicler of moments of passing interest.
Sucheta works with an intimacy and an intensity that gets her close to her subjects, but keeps her from getting sentimental. She photographs people when they are most vulnerable, in situations they least want to be known for, but has developed a trust that not only allows her access, but a shared ownership of images that speak of their dignity despite their situation. It is a rare gift, especially in one so young.
Tarubala Bibi, 30, poisoned by drinking arsenic-contaminated water, lies on bed at Chhayghari Pitala village in Baharampur block in Murshidabad, 265 km north of the eastern Indian city of Kolkata May 18, 2005 ? Sucheta Das
Poem on Waterwall at exhibition “The First Element” at the National Art Gallery Malaysia.
Fluid, flowing, feeling, water
Life, death, birth, union, water
Meandering, shaping, eroding, changing, water
Cosmos, clouds of gas, the ice age, frozen seas, water
Waving, trickling, surging, swaying, water
Giving, creating, forming, bleeding, water
Emotions, passion, unbridled, desire, water
Decanting, oozing, seeping, leaking, leeching, water
Wanting, longing, aching, waiting, water
Spraying, spurting, frothing, spewing, water
Coalescing, merging, blending, easing, water
Searching, probing, seeking, beseeching, water
Dank, fog, mist, wistful water
Soaked in tears
Bathed in rain
Drenched in joy
Cleansed in pain
Immersed in womb
The first element