Irfanul Islam: My quiet friend

Irfanul Islam
Irfanul Islam

The moon was low over the city lights at 4:30 in the morning in Mexico City. A dull orange thin sliver, it too was in mourning. I was heading to the airport, but had just heard the news. Rahnuma had been keeping me updated. Ever since Irfan?s disappearance, we had feared the worst, but hoped upon hope that this time it would be different. They had the money, why did they need him? The news hit very hard.
I had joined the Bangladesh Photographic Society in 1984. Irfan had been part of our small administrative team. After serving as secretary general and three terms as president, I left the BPS to start up the Drik agency. Irfan soon decided to follow me to Drik. He worked in the darkroom with Anisur Rahman. The giant prints we had made in those days of Bangabandhu, in that tiny darkroom, with improvised troughs and hand mixed chemicals, were the handiwork of these two fine technicians.
Quiet and somewhat reclusive, Irfan was also slightly self-conscious as he had a mild stammer. He was a photographer, though he was not employed as one at Drik. He still joined us on photo shoots. He made friends easily with his disarming smile, but was less comfortable with more public roles. Once we closed the wet darkroom at Drik, a lab technician was no longer needed. Given his interest in photography, we tried Irfan out at our school of photography, Pathshala, but it was Drik, where he felt at home, and while he was not normally the person to say no or be defiant, this was one instance where he put his foot down. He was not going to budge from Drik. We had to find a new role for him.
Irfan?s father Mahbubul Islam was a friend I knew from his UNICEF days. Father and son would often come together to Drik and the genial Mahbub Bhai, would talk about the old days. There were problems at home and the young Irfan had to take on responsibilities beyond his years, trying to hold his parents together. Then Irfan himself got married and after their son Ummam?s birth. Zohra, Ummam and Irfan would all come to Drik together. A young bespectacled Ummam, unlike his more reserved father, was happy to play with me, away from his parent?s gaze. Drik was smaller, work pressure was less intense and we had regular family get-togethers. Irfan?s unofficial role was that of the peacemaker. A solid rock when things around were swirling. In an agency where things didn?t always run smoothly, and confrontation with the establishment and other powerful groups not infrequent, Irfan represented stability. He was in charge of money, of valuable documents, sensitive information. He was also the one who saw beyond the immediate tasks working at Drik entailed. He would send me a text, alerting me that a photographer was in danger, or that someone somewhere needed me. He was the one who kept tabs on all the children (part of Drik?s large informal family), who were waiting for their Eidi (Eid presents), and ensured that the gifts reached everyone. It was Irfan people went to, when I needed to be given bad news. When the shit hit the fan, it was Irfan who was the messenger.
He would still join me on photo shoots. Anis (also someone we?ve sadly lost) Irfan and I had gone over to Kuakata on an assignment. It was long before it had become a tourist spot. Suddenly the weather changed and we found ourselves facing a no 10 distress signal. I was on a small boat headed for the bigger boats out at sea. Sensibly, Irfan had stayed behind on land. Sensing danger, we were returning, but it was too late, and our boat had begun to sink in the torrid waves. While this drama played out in the water, the clouds in the horizon lifted and a glorious sunset shimmered underneath the clouds and on the turbulent sea. Even as the boat was sinking, I had my camera out, photographing this spectacular scene. When I made it to dry land, I asked Irfan whether he had some good shots of the boat as it was sinking. ?I was too busy praying Innah Lillah?? was his immediate response. There had always been a mild competition at the BPS. Who was getting the best photograph and who had won the latest awards, were things that mattered to most. Some of that culture had seeped into Drik as well. But Irfan was different. Competitiveness was not part of his DNA. He was never the one facing the lens, but rather the one ensuring the backroom was in working order. Typically, his concern for me that day, was far more important than getting an award winning image. He was happy I had gotten the photograph. Happier, that I was safe.
Irfan is the last person one would associate with violence or conflict. His own tragic death (he went missing and his body was found by a river in Naryanganj), so incongruent with the peace he emanated, is a timely reminder, that unless we are able to address the basic issues of security and justice in this land of ours, Gabriel will never be far away. Even in death, it is Irfan?s message of peace that we must cling on to.
His last text message to me was simple and brief. House 36/1. Road 5. Dhanmondi. Irfan knew that cryptic message was all that I needed. It was the address of photographer Khaled Muhammad Mithu, who had just died in a tragic accident. He was there before me, beside Mithu, even after he had gone. In the Drik 2016 calendar, we listed the people we had lost. Little did we know that Irfan and Mithu would join that list soon after.
Goodbye my quiet friend. May the peace that you radiated, stay with us when you are gone. May your infectious smile linger in our memory. In this competitive world of ours, where success is largely measured by money and glitter, may we find time to reflect and ponder. May you always stay in our thoughts.

This beautiful song by Abida Parveen was sent to me by Stephanie Ravel in Bahrain, in response to my words on Irfan. I enclose the transcript:
0:40???? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
0:50???? kahoon ?secrets should I speak of?
0:52???? kahoon ?secrets should I speak of?
0:58???? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
1:05???? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
1:15??? ?????? ?? ?????? ??? ??? rahi dushmanon se mulaaqaat kya kya What moment was spent in the thought of anything but Him?
1:24???? kahoon ? secrets should I speak of?
1:29kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
1:39???? kahoon ? secrets should I speak of?
1:51?? ???? ?? ???? wuh ?ishwe wuh ghamze Those heart-stopping glances, those mischievous graces
1:56?? ???? ?? ???? wuh naghme wuh jalwe That rapturous music, that dazzling unveiling
2:01?? ???? ?? ???? wuh ?ishwe wuh ghamze Those heart-stopping glances, those mischievous graces
2:05?? ???? ?? ???? wuh naghme wuh jalwe That rapturous music, that dazzling unveiling
2:11?? ???? ?? ???? wuh ?ishwe wuh ghamze Those heart-stopping glances, those mischievous graces
2:15?? ???? ?? ???? wuh naghme wuh jalwe That rapturous music, that dazzling unveiling
2:20??? ?? ??? ??? ?? ???? ??? ??? talab kar rahe ham aafaat kya kya What wondrous calamities we are seeking!
2:30??? ?? ??? ??? ?? ???? ??? ??? talab kar rahe ham aafaat kya kya What wondrous calamities we are seeking!
2:39???? kahoon ? secrets should I speak of?
2:43???? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
2:52???? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
3:01???? kahoon ? secrets should I speak of?
3:21???? ??? ?? ??? ???? ? ??? ?? jahaan mujh ko aaya khayaal aa gaye wuh As soon as His thought appeared, He appeared in my heart
3:31???? ??? ?? jahaan mujh ko As soon as?
3:33???? ??? ?? ??? ???? ? ??? ?? jahaan mujh ko aaya khayaal aa gaye wuh As soon as His thought appeared, He appeared in my heart
3:40???? ??? ?? ??? ???? ? ??? ?? jahaan mujh ko aaya khayaal aa gaye wuh As soon as His thought appeared, He appeared in my heart
3:43???? ? ??? ?? khayaal aa gaye wuh ?He appeared in my heart
3:48???? ??? ?? ??? ???? ? ??? ?? jahaan mujh ko aaya khayaal aa gaye wuh As soon as His thought appeared, He appeared in my heart
3:58?????? ??? ?? ?? ?????? ??? ??? dikhaayi hain dil ne karaamaat kya kya What wondrous miracles the heart has accomplished!
4:07?????? ??? dikhaayi ?accomplished!
4:11?????? ??? ?? ?? dikhaayi hain dil ne ?the heart has accomplished!
4:16?????? ??? dikhaaeen hain ?has accomplished!
4:24?????? ??? ?? ?? ?????? ??? ??? dikhaayi hain dil ne karaamaat kya kya What wondrous miracles the heart has accomplished!
4:34???? kahoon ? secrets should I speak of?
4:38???? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
4:59?? ??? ????? ?????? ??? ??? ?? ?? nah thi guftugu darmiyaan phir bhi un se Though nothing was said to Him face to face
5:08?? ??? ????? nah thi guftugu Nothing was said
5:12????? guftugu Said
5:22????? guftugu Said
5:33?? ??? ????? ?????? ??? ??? ?? ?? nah thi guftugu darmiyaan phir bhi un se Though nothing was said to Him face to face
5:42??? ???? ?? ???? ??? ??? ??? pas-i parda-i dil hui baat kya kya What wondrous conversation occurred behind the curtain of the heart!
5:51???? kahoon ? secrets should I speak of?
5:56???? ???? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ??? kahoon dost se dost ki baat kya kya What wondrous secrets should I speak of to the Friend who lives in His friend?s heart?
6:06???? kahoon ? secrets should I speak of?

7 thoughts on “Irfanul Islam: My quiet friend”

  1. Alam Bhai, what happened with Irfan was so not fair. I have seen and witnessed a lot in life but this really boils my blood. I am shaken and so so so sorry. I knew his father better that him, but I know enough to say that Irfan had his father’s DNA of decency, honesty, humanity and faithfulness. Bangladesh, unfortunately does not have too many such decent souls and it is not just a loss to his family, you or Drik but entire country. It is so not fair.

  2. Assalamualaikum wr wb. There are no doubt that Mohammad Irfanul Islam was a very loving person. Definitely we all will miss him very much. But the question is do we really love him?? Please everyone of you…..ask the question to yourself….
    I personally request the DRIK family to ask the question to themselves..”DO WE REALLY LOVE IRFAN BHAI?” If the answer is “YES” ….DRIK should do what needs to be done instead of just sitting & expressing their sorrows.
    The killer needs to be brought to justice
    IRFAN BHAI lost his life while carrying most important sensitive duty for DRIK. He always humbly gave most of his time & energy to DRIK with long lasting smile.
    If Irfan Bhai didn’t go to the bank to withdraw $$ for DRIK he would be here today with his DRIK family & his beloved wife Zohra & Beloved 15 yrs old son Umam.
    Where is DRIK responsibility?
    What is DRIK doing now??
    Who ever stole his life away from his only son & wife…shouldn’t the murderer be brought to justice??? We all have responsibility to the ones we love & care for…
    Or we just sit & express our sorrow…post & share messages …
    What benefit it will bring us & his family??
    If we don’t fight for beautiful person like Irfan Bhai, who or what we will fight for??
    If we don’t fight for justice…what we should fight for??
    If stay silent… Today we lost our loving Dear Irfan Bhai..tomorrow we will lose another…list will go on & on..
    Please DRIK family I beg you to bring the killers to justice.
    You owe it his beloved wife & his beloved 15 yrs old son Umam.
    IF IRFAN BHAI COULD WOULD AND DID EVERYTHING HUMBLY FOR
    DRIK….WHY CAN’T DRIK????
    Please before it’s too late get the job done..it’s simple for institution like DRIK…
    If you want justice you will get justice…please find the killer….since they are there
    Irfan’s Bhai’s death is not like any other natural deaths.
    If we don’t see the killers someone is keeping the killers hidden…
    May Allah guide DRIK to do what needs to be done …
    May Allah Grant Irfan Bhai JannatulFerdous Ameen.

  3. I never had the pleasure of meeting Irfan and have yet to visit his country. Yet it is patently obvious that you have lost a great friend and a caring human being.. My thoughts and prayers are with you all. Reflect on all the good times you shared. These memories will provide comfort.

  4. I write from Rome as a long-standing friend and ally of Drik and all that it stands for, both in Bangladesh and throughout the world. Although I met Irfan I did not know him, but alongside you I feel sorrow and anger at his death. I also know that the banner of peace, understanding and justice, which is the heart of Drik’s role in Bangladesh, must be held high in these times.
    If I was in Dhaka today I would be in your human chain.

  5. Dear Farzana and other readers. There are parallel strands of discussions that are taking place on social media and on this blog. I am sending an updated message I earlier posted on Facebook.
    Several important ideas have been broached. I think we need to keep them separate, if only to be efficient. There are two areas to consider both from the point of view of the family and that of the photographic community. 1. Immediate needs. 2. Long term needs. From the family’s point of view, justice is what Zohra wants more than anything else, as indeed do we. Other priorities for us involve Umam. He is young and his future must also be considered. While I do not want to go into details in public, we have decided that we shall take of the long term educational needs of Umam. I do not want to push Zohra into anything, but I also want to ensure that she has the psychological and emotional support she needs at this time. I am grateful that so many have come forward to support the family, and I do not want to interfere with that process, but I believe Drik’s responsibility is the greatest here and feel it is the long term care for the family that Drik should take on.
    As far as justice is concerned, we cannot limit this to a particular case. The overall security for ordinary citizens MUST be emphasised. Otherwise there will be other Irfans, other Tonus and other Bashkhali victims. This too is a long-term issue, and we are currently trying to work out modalities for an appropriate response. This is a more difficult one, as there are divergent views on how this is to be tackled. I think Shehzad has made an important start on the short-term response, which we are also happy to support. In short, Drik’s immediate priority will be to provide psychological and emotional support for Zohra. It’s long term priority will be long term education and career building for Umam. We shall keep you updated.
    It is also important to recognize that the organisations in Bangladesh involved in such investigations (Drik has no such authority or jurisdiction) are far from perfect. Drik has provided full support to the investigation teams, but I believe a much broader coalition is needed if justice is to be found. The murder of Sagar and Runi has still not been solved. The disappearance of Kalpana Chakma took place nearly twenty years ago! I myself was attacked in 1996 and received eight stab wounds. This happened during curfew and when the military was guarding the street where the attack took place. Yet after all these years, no leads were found. That is no reason for us to give up, or to stop applying pressure. But this has to be a collective pressure. The attack on Irfan represents an attack on all ordinary citizens and it is we citizens who must rise to the challenge. Otherwise there will be many more Irfans and Tonus and journalists and activists who will give their lives.
    While Drik continues to apply pressure, it is only when we take to the streets in numbers, that the powers that rule our country will take notice. We have accepted this for far too long and need to reclaim our land.

    1. Assalamualaikum wr wb. I am very pleased & inspired by every word you have written. I agree with you from the begining to the end.
      I am glad & greatful to Allah(swt) the way you recognized the status of the situation & how it should be taken care of.
      “we have decided that we shall take of the long term educational needs of Umam.”
      I salute you!
      We all have to unite in order to be successful.
      “That is no reason for us to give up, or to stop applying pressure. But this has to be a collective pressure. The attack on Irfan represents an attack on all ordinary citizens and it is we citizens who must rise to the challenge. Otherwise there will be many more Irfans and Tonus and journalists and activists who will give their lives.”
      Yes I absolutely agree. We have to fight for justice to protect our innocent brothers & sisters. This is not the way loose our loved ones.
      As you know irfan’s family from your heart, they are exceptional. May Allah ease the pain of Irfan’s beloved wife Zohra & beloved son Umam.
      I am really greatful that you all put great significance in Umam’s education & future.
      I would like to take the privilege to thank you & give my honor to you & DRIK for making a absolute
      decision for Irfan Bhai’s family.
      I hope we individuals & other institutions takes you as an example in our society.
      I hope we take it as obligation toward our society to bring justice & peace to our nation.
      We do not want to loose our loved ones through injustice.
      It’s leaves us with worst kind of pain in our heart & insecurity that young Umam is going through.
      Umam & his father carries the DNA of humility kindness that is unadorned with love & patience.
      We do not want another Umam fatherless.
      All The Best!
      Farzana

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