Live Between Buildings: Narrow Micro-Homes Fill City Gaps

By Urbanist
narrow home competition entry

Playful yet thought-provoking, this project asks: what do we do with small leftover spaces in cities ? particularly in urban areas where even a few square feet of real estate can cost a fortune? Continue reading “Live Between Buildings: Narrow Micro-Homes Fill City Gaps”

Magnum Foundation Interview

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Conversation between Shehab Uddin and Shahidul Alam

Champa with her son Ridoy, running to meet me. At first, she was very reluctant but soon she became quite willing, to pose in front of the camera. To trust or distrust some one is a matter of whimsy for her like others pavements dwellers. 2008, Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Shehab Uddin/Drik/Majority World

UDDIN: I’m a freelance photographer in Bangladesh and I first met Shahidul in 1998. At that time I was in my hometown in Khulna. Shahidul, who also moved to Bangladesh a few years earlier was organizing all the photographers here. So it was a great moment for me to meet him.

After that, I came to Dhaka in 1990 and I joined a newspaper here. In 2005 I decided that work in the newspaper was not right for me, and I had the opportunity to join Drik and work directly with Shahidul. So I took the opportunity and worked there as a photographer. It was really a milestone, and a breakthrough for me.
ALAM: The agency [Drik] was set up primarily because we were very concerned that countries like Bangladesh, which some have called “third-world countries” and we choose to call “majority-world countries,” have been portrayed almost invariably through a very narrow lens. It worries me that Bangladesh has become in the eyes of many, an icon of poverty. The reality is something we cannot ignore. Shehab shows it through his work and I have no intention of wallpapering over the problems we have. What I do have a serious problem with is when people are denied their humanity and become icons of poverty; they become lesser human beings.
The agency was set up because we wanted to tell stories that got across the richness and the diversity of people’s lives and we realized the story had to be told by people who had empathy for the subject. So it was a platform for local practitioners. And that’s the birth of Drik. But when we started, we realized that a lot of the photography infrastructure a Western agency has acess to, was not available to us. So we started creating some of that infrastructure here. Later on we also began developing educational structures that could foster new talents. We are one of the few agencies in the world that has two galleries of its own, runs a school of photography, and runs its own photography festival; I do not know of a single other agency in the world that does anything of this type. But all of that is really part and parcel of Drik’s photography-philosophy–in telling rich and diverse stories without compromising the subject’s humanity–we just had to create a whole space for ourselves. And now we are telling our own stories.
Continue reading “Magnum Foundation Interview”

Cricket in a time of scarce land

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By Khademul Islam

Dhaka’s heart beats for the game, but the city is fast running out of one vital ingredient

It is the 15th of August in Dhaka, a national holiday, a day of mourning for the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, slain in a military putsch on this day back in 1975. I sit on my fourth-floor verandah in the residential area of Dhanmondi. It is also the month of Ramzan. Fasting and mourning have slowed down the pace of this normally choked, blaring, traffic-jammed, overcrowded city of nearly 15 million people.
Below me on the road running in front of the apartment building, boys play cricket – the familiar South Asian scene of bricks doing duty for wickets and excited shouts rising into the humid air. I watch the batsman as he faces a delivery. There is something dismally familiar about his wild swing at a ball outside the “off stump”; it’s the patented stroke of a nation that can’t go beyond the limited-overs game.
It’s a narrow road and the boys are crowded into it. I look up at the broken-tooth skyline of apartment buildings under construction, with cement pillars and iron rods sticking out any old where. Construction goes on at an unchecked, frantic pace, because Dhaka is fast running out of living space. Land is at a premium. This has begun to affect cricket. That is what I hear from officials at the Bangladesh Cricket Board’s offices. They are in Mirpur, right by the Sher-e-Bangla cricket stadium, a low-rise affair, where, at ground level, the sightlines are intimate and cosy compared to the spacious arenas in other countries.
I am here because I am interested in compiling, or at least in getting a start on, a history of cricket in Bangladesh. Independence came in 1971, and sometime in 1974 league cricket was kickstarted – a continuation of cricketing times in the old East Pakistan. Before that, clubs had revived, and coir mats were put down on the dusty “ovals” of the area outside the old stadium – now renamed the Bangabandhu National Stadium, where the opening ceremonies will take place for the World Cup next year – in the Gulistan commercial area.
In 1973 I was a first-year Dhaka University student, and we would go to watch the matches in the dirt and dust. There were clubs for whom our friends played, and on their match days we would have lunches with the team – naan gosht with Coke bought from the stadium restaurants – rinsing our hands afterwards with water from the garden hoses in the courtyards. Cricket drew us like rusted filings to magnets. We would go to watch net practice on afternoons, even as over the boundary wall buses would honk and screech by and street urchins collecting trash watch wide-eyed as bat and ball met. Or missed.

The future of Bangladesh cricket

A sudden rain falls on the boys below me. A slanting Bengal rain. But the game does not break up. The boys keep playing in their soaked t-shirts. It’s a holiday, after all. Why let a little rain spoil an absorbing game of cricket? The boys still have a happy concept of freedom, something we adult Bangladeshis seem to have lost.
I remembered Gulistan from an even earlier era, as a little boy during the mid-1960s. A tree-lined, shady circle with Nawab Siraj-ud-Dowla’s cannon smack dab in the centre. Sports-club buildings ringed the circle; lovely white clapboard bungalows. Victoria Club – or was it Wanderers? – even had a white picket fence. We lived in Motijheel Colony then, a residential complex for government officers. I learned how to leg-glance there. We left for West Pakistan sometime later and my cricket carried on on Karachi’s sandy grounds.
In 1972 we came back to an independent Bangladesh, to a nation in smoking post-war ruin. But “never say die” was the motto. From the ashes of a civil war rose the phoenix of cricket. Clubs revived, the stadium pitch was renewed, old players streamed back to play. The Bangladesh Cricket Control Board was set up in 1972, and a host of tournaments came into being.
At the university cricket ground we played with a row of palm trees standing guard at one end. In 1976 an MCC team came to Bangladesh, followed by Omar Kureishi’s XI, led by Imran Khan, then the Deccan Blues followed. Subsequently there were ICC matches, and thus began Bangladesh’s slow grind up through the ladder to full Test status.
I left for the United States in the mid-1980s and so missed parts of the story from then on, but once hooked is forever hooked, and so I followed the plot from abroad.
The roster of clubs expanded, the league became a serious affair – gone was the carefree bonhomie that characterised the 1970s and early 80s. Especially crucial in this transformation were the overseas players – from a trickle in early 80s to a flood later: English county players such as Richard Illingworth, a host of Pakistanis (even Wasim Akram, who made friends here among the Bengalis) and Indians (Ashok Malhotra and Arun Lal to name a couple), and especially Sri Lankans: Marvan Atapattu, Duleep Mendis, Arjuna Ranatunga and Sanath Jayasuriya. Bangladesh cricket would never the same again, its horizons having been exponentially expanded.
I came back in 2002, and seeing Bangladesh field a Test team made me want to stitch together a narrative of its beginnings, specially the first two decades. That cricket was even played in the outer stadium grounds in Gulistan – by now a nightmare ant-heap of rickshaws, men, women, pavement hawkers, mendicants, buses, more men – seemed to me to be something that would soon fade from public memory, as cricket history became solely the memories of old-time players.
But no, I was told at the BCB offices, there were no records. Nothing that went back to the 1970s at all. I sat in a room with a large window, through which I could see bright sunlight crash down on the pitch, talking to a couple of officials who had seen it all, had been through it all from the East Pakistan times and now worked for the board. No archives, no paper trail, they said in reply to my queries. Minutes of the meetings of the board? There had been a fire, somebody said. All gone.
Slowly I began to realise it was all down to old men’s memories. The talk drifted to present times, about the much-discussed fact that Bangladesh could not play the longer version of the game, about the league structure, about the future of the game. Finally one of them said, “L-a-n-d.”
“Land?” I enquired.
“Y-e-s,” rang back the plaintive answer from the Greek chorus.
Sukrabad, Panthapath. Dhaka. (c) Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

There was no land left in Dhaka to play cricket on. Schools had no fields, neighbourhood playing areas had disappeared, the word “community” meant a clutch of apartment buildings. Clubs were there, but no fields. Boys played in lanes and on apartment rooftops. No land, no cricket. Where will they play? Where are future players going to come from?
Dhaka is a city of tenements, slums and apartments, its jagged skyline of apartments sprouting to the incessant roar of choked traffic and the beat of an exploding population. People flock to it from the villages, their homesteads washed away by swollen monsoon river tides, joining the ranks of rickshaw pullers, beggars, shopkeepers, day-labourers, household help, darwans, drivers, busmen, the hordes of the unemployed and the under-employed. The ranks swell every day. They claim to, but we all know nobody really has a handle on it.
I had no answer to the Greek chorus. I left, after a tour of the modern, expensive drainage system at the stadium, the locker rooms, the training academy. Sitting in the car on the way back I suddenly remembered Chittagong, where I spent a couple of years at St Placid’s School. It had two fields, nicknamed Big Field and Little Field. On mornings when I came early to school, I would wander over to Big Field. It was where the school team played cricket, and the grass would be dew-pearled in the morning light, an unbelievable green. It was the grass at the stadium, I realised with a start, that had triggered this ghost image from way back.
Fields and cricket – where was one without the other? And the narrative? Cricket in Bangladesh, whose origins and artistic heart was so centered in Dhaka that for well-nigh three decades the history of Bangladesh cricket was synonymous with that of the city – well, I thought, it would have to be written by somebody far better than I.
Khademul Islam is a Bangladeshi writer and critic

From the other side of the fence

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There is a certain arrogance in ?teaching? anything. The assumption that you know best, and the certainty that you are in authority. The clear hierarchy. Bhaiya and Apa, against tumi or tui. When advantages of age and access are coupled with differences of class, it forms a dangerous mix. One needs to tread warily. The medium of photography, because of its power, is a dangerous tool. One hopes to share the adventure of a new way of seeing, but stay alert to the traps of privileged voyeurism. To empower and not be patronizing. To open windows of opportunity. To let in fresh ideas, but not trample on thoughts that exist.
It?s been tried before. The novelty of teaching children, the moral high ground through providing what was absent, the exoticism of entering a world through eyes that have special access are ways in which new worlds have been ?discovered?. Rarely has it raised the question of the invisibility of worlds that leads to such discovery. Empowerment can only be explored where equality has previously been denied. How then does one approach exploitation? How does one undo wrongs when one is on the ?wrong? side of the fence?
There are no easy answers. No secret ingredient, that makes one immune to the hazards of benevolent intervention. Therein lies the magic of this medium. Stripped of the need for technical prowess that makes privileged knowledge a domain of the privileged. Unburdened by the material limitations of films and their cost. Liberated from the aesthetic leanings of conventional education, some children have a freedom that their ?well brought up? counterparts have long lost.

Photo:?Shawlin Akhter, 12

Photo:?Md. Shahin Alam, 15

It?s a contagious spontaneity. A boy and his shadow, hovering in suspended animation, take the ?decisive moment? to new heights. Clutching her prized possessions, a little girl walks through a rubbish tip, her hesitant smile lighting up the drabness of her surrounds. A lonesome worker, drooped in toil, rests his weary body. These are not images made because of some learned aesthetics, or some schooling of shape or form. No complex law of composition can compete with the contours shaped by a caring eye. No sermon on tempo and pace can replace the irrepressible energy of unabashed youthfulness. No theory on the use of negative space can contain the sheer audacity of an unbounded horizon. Did the ?teachers? not have a role? Of course they did. They stepped out of the way when they knew the time was right. They coaxed and cajoled when a little prod was needed. They said ?yes, yes, yes?, when they saw hesitation in expectant eyes. They waxed the wings of flight. They let imagination soar.
Photo: Md. Foysal, 13

These gentle, harsh, chaotic and elegant images remind us, not of some untapped potential that our intervention has released, but the humanity in abundance that our unabated surge for growth, leaves behind.
Exhibition and launch
Dhaka Diary
UNICEF website

Dhaka Traffic Blues

Politically Correct Eid Greetings

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