The Tide Will Turn

Shahidul Alam: The Tide Will Turn

Edited by Vijay Prashad

Texts by Shahidul Alam and Arundhati Roy

To my fellow prisoners in Keraniganj Jail, and the youth of Bangladesh who continue to resist, and to Abrar Farhad who was murdered by fellow students for his defiance.
Book design by Shahidul Alam and Holger Feroudj / Steidl Design
184 pages
7.3 x 9.3 in. / 18.5 x 23.5 cm
37 black-and-white and 74 colour photographs Four-colour process
Clothbound hardcover
€ 28.00 / £ 25.00 / US$ 30.00
ISBN 978-3-95829-693-0
A Bangladeshi policeman gags photographer Shahidul Alam to prevent him from speaking to the press during a court appearance 6 August 2018. Photo courtesy Suvra Kanti Das

“On the night of 5 August, I did not know if I was going to live or die,” writes Shahidul Alam, one of Bangladesh’s most respected photo- journalists, essayists and social activists, remembering his arrest, torture and eventual 101-day incarceration in Keraniganj Jail in 2018. Just a few hours before, he had given a television interview criticising the government’s brutal handling of the student protests of that year which had called for improved road safety and an end to wider social injustice—in his words, “the years of misrule, the corruption, the wanton killing, the wealth amassed by the ruling coterie.” Combining Alam’s photos and texts with those of a range of collaborators, including artwork by Sofia Karim and fellow inmates, The Tide Will Turn documents his experiences, the global support for his release, and the ongoing fight for secularism and democracy in Bangladesh and beyond.

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Described by its editor Vijay Prashad as about “the beauty and tragedy of our world, about how to photograph that dialectic,
and about how to write about it,” Continue reading “The Tide Will Turn”

Reply to Arundhati: Yes, We Will Rise

Dearest Arundhati,

It was a letter I read and reread long before it appeared before my eyes. It was through layers of metal bars that I strained to listen to Rahnuma’s words. At over 130 decibels, the noise made by us screaming prisoners, straining to hear and be heard, was akin to a crowded stadium or a fire siren. As she repeated her words over and over again, I faintly heard, Arundhati. Letter. It was just over a hundred days that I had been incarcerated. A hundred days since I’d slept on my own bed, fed my fish, cycled down the streets of Dhaka. A hundred days since I’d pressed my shutter as I searched for that elusive light.

Arundhati Roy with Maati Ke Laal in her flat in Delhi. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Those words, screamed out but barely heard was the nourishment I needed. Did you write it by hand? What was the paper like? In this digital age, you probably used a keyboard. What font had you used? What point size? And the words. Words that you so gracefully string together. I relished the imagined words. Your words. I missed words as I missed my bed, my fish and Rahnuma’s touch. When they asked me what I needed in jail, books were on top of my list. The first lot of books came in. Mujib’s prison diaries, Schendel’s History of Bangladesh, and the book you’d given me when we last met, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I’d been meaning to read it ever since we said goodbye in Delhi, but our lives had been taken over by the immediacy of our struggles. Now I had the time. Continue reading “Reply to Arundhati: Yes, We Will Rise”

Letter To My Father

Letter to My Father 

October 2017
You once said: My reward for this life will be a thousand pounds of dirt
shoveled in my face. You were wrong. You are seven pounds of ashes
in a box, a Puerto Rican flag wrapped around you, next to a red brick
from the house in Utuado where you were born, all crammed together
on my bookshelf. You taught me there is no God, no life after this life,
so I know you are not watching me type this letter over my shoulder.

Continue reading “Letter To My Father”

Apolitical Intellectuals

 
One day the apolitical intellectuals of my country will be interrogated by the simplest of our people.
They will be asked what they did when their nation died out slowly, like a sweet fire small and alone.
No one will ask them about their dress, their long siestas after lunch, no one will want to know about their sterile combats with “the idea of the nothing” no one will care about their higher financial learning.
They won’t be questioned on Greek mythology, or regarding their self-disgust when someone within them begins to die the coward’s death.
They’ll be asked nothing about their absurd justifications, born in the shadow of the total lie.
On that day the simple men will come.
Those who had no place in the books and poems of the apolitical intellectuals, but daily delivered their bread and milk, their tortillas and eggs, those who drove their cars, who cared for their dogs and gardens and worked for them, and they’ll ask:
“What did you do when the poor suffered, when tenderness and life burned out of them?”
Apolitical intellectuals of my sweet country, you will not be able to answer.
A vulture of silence will eat your gut.
Your own misery will pick at your soul.
And you will be mute in your shame.
–Otto Rene Castillo

Had cadmium ever glowed so red?

I’d pretty much perfected the art. I’d go down to the newest library I could find. Become a member as quickly as I could, and armed with my new membership card head straight to section 770, the magical number for photography at UK public libraries. I would take out the full complement of 8 books that I was allowed at any one time. When the lending period was over, they would be replaced by another eight.
I devoured the books, which were mostly monographs, or ones on technique, composition or even special effects. I knew too little about photography, to know how limited my knowledge was. It was many years later, when my partner Rahnuma, gave me a copy of “The Seventh Man” by John Berger, that a new way of looking at photographs opened up. Unknowingly, it was the book “Ways of Seeing” that later opened another window. One that helped me see the world of storytelling. That was when I realised that image making was only a part of the process. Once youtube arrived on the scene, and the television series with the same name entered our consciousness in such a powerful way, his TV series “Ways of Seeing” became my new staple diet. Here was a leftie who could still speak in a language the average person could understand, and that too on a topic such as art. His fascination was neither about the artist nor the artwork itself, but how we responded to it and how it gained new meaning through our interaction. While it was art he was dissecting, it was popular culture he was framing it within.
That there was so much to read in a photograph, beyond the technicalities of shutter speed, aperture and resolution, is something my years of reading section 770 had never revealed. The photographs of Jean Mohr (The Seventh Man), were unlikely to win awards in contests, or fetch high prices in auctions, but Berger’s insights into the situations and the relationships that the photographs embodied, gave them a value way beyond the mechanics of image formation. Berger never undermined the technical or aesthetic merits of a photograph. He simply found far more interesting things to unearth.

John Berger signing book for Pathshala with Shahidul Alam, at South Bank in London. Photo by Paul Bryers

Continue reading “Had cadmium ever glowed so red?”

Didi. The Street Fighter

MAHASWETA DEVI (JANUARY 14, 1926 – JULY 28, 2016), WRITER AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue "Nature's Fury" by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue “Nature’s Fury” by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Protocol wasn’t Didi’s thing. Shoitan! (Satan) she would say lovingly. And then grab you and plonk you on her lap. The fact that both Rahnuma and I were far too old, and I was certainly much too heavy, to be sitting on anyone’s lap wasn’t something she worried much about. She didn’t care much for people’s age, and what other people thought, was something that had never bothered her. If you love someone, they sit on your lap. “You have a problem with that?”
Mahasweta Devi (Didi ‘elder sister’ to all of us) had been a giant of a figure in South Asian literature for as far back as I can remember. “Jhansir Rani”(The Queen of Jhansi, 1956), Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1084, 1975) and “Aranyer Adhikar”(The Occupation of the Forest, 1977) her powerful novel about the Santal uprising were what we knew this celebrated writer and activist by. That she was a tease and loved to sing, and didn’t mind the odd practical joke, was a side to her that had remained private. What should have been apparent was the rebel in her; her uncompromising stand for the oppressed, and her clear position as to which side of the fence she belonged. Continue reading “Didi. The Street Fighter”

Runs in the Family

New findings about schizophrenia rekindle old questions about genes and identity.

In the winter of 2012, I travelled from New Delhi, where I grew up, to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish. He is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his firstborn nephew, the eldest brother’s son. Since 2004, Moni, now fifty-two, has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a “lunatic home,” as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept awash in antipsychotics and sedatives, and an attendant watches, bathes, and feeds him through the day.

My father has never accepted Moni’s diagnosis. Over the years, he has waged a lonely campaign against the psychiatrists charged with his nephew’s care, hoping to convince them that their diagnosis was a colossal error, or that Moni’s broken psyche would somehow mend itself. He has visited the institution in Calcutta twice, once without warning, hoping to see a transformed Moni, living a secretly normal life behind the barred gates. But there was more than just avuncular love at stake for him in these visits. Moni is not the only member of the family with mental illness. Two of my father’s four brothers suffered from various unravellings of the mind. Madness has been among the Mukherjees for generations, and at least part of my father’s reluctance to accept Moni’s diagnosis lies in a grim suspicion that something of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself. Continue reading “Runs in the Family”

Embracing the Amateur

Photo: Javed Miandad Design: Mahbub/Drik
Photo: Javed Miandad
Design: Mahbub/Drik

We spot a lens peering at us from the corner of our eye. Immediately we straighten up, fix our hair, smooth the rough in our clothes, consciously make – or avoid – eye contact. Only the well trained is able to visibly avoid responding to the camera’s presence. The professional photographer prides in her ability to take ‘natural’ photographs, where her intervention is invisible. Yet, peering through family albums, wedding folders or a Facebook status we find ourselves actively inviting the portrayal of how we want to be seen. Whether we consider a photograph of ourselves to be ‘good’ largely depends on how well the photographer has represented us, as we would want it. As such the photographer’s success depends not so much on her aesthetic sense or insight, but on her ability to please the sitter. While this applies to the casual portraitist, it is much more true of the professional photographer. Her bread and butter depend on a satisfied client and as such, are driven by an external agenda. Whether it be a corporation, or an NGO or a newly wed couple, a good photographer is one who delivers what is required.
Continue reading “Embracing the Amateur”

They call us now

JULY 19, 2014 NICHOLAS ROBSON
A Facebook friend shared the following remarkable poem by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, who is a co-founder of the Institute for Middle East Understanding based in Seattle. It catches the nightmarish absurdity of the latest invasion of Gaza.

Running Orders, by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha


They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
Run.
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
Run.

Intelligent People All Have One Thing In Common: They Stay Up Later Than You

When the moon beckons

LIFE •

There’s an electricity in the moon. A pulse, a magic, an energy. A bewitching entrancement unlike that of the sun.

The moon is for things unseen, things done in the shadows and beneath the fog. Under bridges and beneath bed sheets — it’s for wild hearts and unconcerned minds. It’s where plans are made in dark alleyways and secrets revealed under the soft haze of light coming through the cracks of closed shutters.

It’s when fugitives escape and kids run away. It’s when girls lose their virginities on torn leather seats and boys get into trouble. It’s when the suffering take their lives and the lonely seek comfort.

It’s when we fall in love — that passionate, all-consuming, purposeful love that always looks a little different in the light of day.

It’s by night that we see our true desires. We reflect on our moments of unhappiness and those yearnings that are momentarily blinded by the sun. It’s when we become poets and philosophers, martyrs and murderers.

It’s when we form regrets of days past and that profound hatred for those who hurt us. It’s when we choke on our tears through deep sobs that can only pour onto dark pillowcases.

The night is for passion. It’s for fanaticism, romance and trouble. It’s when your most tender, authentic and suppressed sides come out to play under the nonjudgmental eyes of the stars.

It’s for all those things you could never dream of doing by day, under the watchful eyes of the sun.

It’s no wonder night owls are more intelligent than those who hit the hay early. It makes sense that those who absorb the energy of the moon are more creative and open-minded than those who like to catch the early worm.

It’s only natural that those who go to bed earlier never experience the psychological and emotional changes that occur under the blanket of darkness.

According to ”Psychology Today,” intelligent people are more likely to be nocturnal than people with lower IQ scores. In a study run on young Americans, results showed that intelligent individuals went to bed later on weeknights and weekends than their less intelligent counterparts.

In ”Study Magazine,” Satoshi Kanazawa, a psychologist at the London School Of Economics And Political Science, reported that IQ average and sleeping patterns are most definitely related, proving that those who play under the moon are, indeed, more intelligent human beings.

His analysis goes back to ancient times, asserting the idea that even in primitive years, people have been known to rise and fall with the sun.

Average brains were conditioned to follow this sleep pattern, while the more inquisitive, intellectual ones want to defy that pattern and create their own.

It’s an unconscious defiance that comes from refusal to acquiesce to the idea of mass appeal.

These findings are reported by “Study Magazine” as such:

Bedtimes and wake-up times for Americans in their 20s by IQ.

Very Dull (IQ < 75)
Weekday: 11:41 pm -7:20 am
Weekend: 12:35 am -10:09 pm

Normal (90 < IQ < 110)
Weekday: 12:10 am -7:32 am
Weekend: 1:13 am -10:14 am

Very Bright (IQ > 125)
Weekday: 12:29 am -7:52 am
Weekend: 1:44 am -11:07 am

Those with IQs less than 75 went to bed by 11:30 pm on weeknights in early adulthood, whereas those with IQs over 125 went to bed around after 12:30 am. This is no coincidence.

The data supports the notion that all night owls feel: the only real time for living is after everyone’s gone to bed.

Only after dark can we learn, absorb and study the effects of the day. It’s a necessary self reflection that few humans take the time to make.

There’s something to be said about those who fight the urge to sleep and explore that block of uncharted time that so many who always have their eyes closed will never see.

They Get Time To Daydream

All those dreams you can’t have during the day, when you’re snapped out of them by friends, family and work, are finally given time to run around.

Free to play in the open spaces of your mind, you can swim in all those thoughts you hid under your desk or behind mounds of paper work. It’s the most creative time of day, along with the most liberating.

It’s by the nightfall that your most uninhibited and passionate sides are explored. It’s the time to unleash your innermost desires and allow yourself the freedom that’s masked behind the taunting exposure of sunlight.

The night is for testing your limits and challenging yourself. It’s for discovering those passions you suppress all day and breaking down all those rules your parents made to protect you.

It’s the time to dig into those hidden corners of your mind and unknown trails of your subconscious. It’s a time of self-expression that can only be unlocked at night and evaluated by day.


They Are Anti-Establishment

Staying up late has been, and always will be, an act of rebellion. A defiance of the nine-to-five, the very habit of staying up late is revolutionary. Since ancient times, there is evidence that society condoned the night owls.

In the academic paper, “Why The Night Owl Is More Intelligent,” published in the journal “Psychology And Individual Differences,” it’s widely assumed that for several millennia, humans were largely conditioned to work during the day and to sleep at night.

While those who defy the trend, are more likely to “acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel values and preferences than less intelligent individuals.”

These “novel values” become the building blocks of leaders. They are the makings of revolutionaries, inventors and explorers. They are the ones who makes sacrifices and defy the societal pressure to follow the masses.

It’s no surprise that those willing to stay up late, to explore the uncharted territory of night, are more inquisitive.

They are more apt to make discoveries and challenge authority. They want to expand their mind, not shut it off just because people tell them it’s time for bed.


They Are More Open-Minded

Things that happen at night are things you can’t get away with during the day. It’s the time of utter licentiousness, of underhanded transactions and unseemly occupations.

It’s when the bars are opened and the poets write. It’s when musicians pore over instruments, geniuses have their breakthroughs and artists come alive. According to “Esquire,” it’s also when you have the most sex.

Healthy sex lives and late curfews are indeed, positively correlated. Those reported to have later bedtimes were buying more sex toys and having more sex than their sleepier counterparts.

One sex shop worker believes that intelligence is correlated with open-mindedness, which in turns correlates with a more open sex life.

Those who are willing to stay awake, who yearn for the mysteries of nightfall, are exposed to an array of discoveries that those who stay asleep will never know. It’s those who are willing to test their limits and explore in the dark who will bring more light to the day.


They Are Proactive

The early bird may get the worm, but the night owl gets the whole jar. While the early risers may get up to see the first worm crawl its way to the wet surface, the night owl gets to them before they burrow under.

Getting up early is most definitely proactive, but staying up late is just as fruitful. Those who stay up get hours ahead, rather than the one or two an early riser gains.

There are things to be explored at night that early risers will never experience. There are ideas formulated and tasks completed that early risers never get to finish.

Because at night, there is dawn and a new day in front of you. But by morning, there’s just the bleakness of night and the daunting end of another day.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It

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