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Guardian 16th October 2011

Photographer Shahidul Alam’s best shot

‘The fisherman told me the river is a destructive animal. It had destroyed his home many times’

The only fish that matters ? Shahidul Alam's shot of ilish fishing on the river Brahmaputra, Bangladesh. Photograph: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
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.
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.
  1. Shahidul Alam: My Journey as a Witness
  2. Wilmotte Gallery at Lichfield Studios,
  3. London
  1. Until 18 November
  2. Details:020-8968?3333
  3. Venue website
Published inBangladeshcultureenvironmentInterviewsPhotographyShahidul AlamSouth AsiaWater


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