1134 – lives not numbers

A group exhibition dedicated to the lost garment workers of Bangladesh.

Photo: Taslima Akhter
Photo: Taslima Akhter

Still haunted by the memories. When I close my eyes I see the procession of corpses, following me behind, taunting my sense of responsibility. 24th April, 2013, Rana Plaza collapses, 1134 lost to senseless greed, lives lost due to collective negligence. A dark day in the history of garments workers lives, a nightmare which will terrorize us for the rest of our lives. Amongst the rubble, hidden beneath the stones, beams and bricks, thousands of workers lie enveloped in darkness, their dreams crushed under the weight of our negligence.

Continue reading “1134 – lives not numbers”

Call for themes: Chobi Mela VIII

Theme for
Chobi Mela VIII

Win a festival catalogue!
Deadline: 28 February 2014

Propose your theme for Chobi Mela VIII, January 2015

Chobi Mela, the international festival of photography since its inception in 2000 has aimed at exploring the semiotics of present day photographic practice in a broad international context, to bring about an understanding of the medium both within the industry and amongst the public at large. The past festivals, thematically addressed Differences, Exclusion, Resistance, BoundariesFreedom, Dreams and Fragility provided an opportunity to fine art photographers, conceptual artists and photo journalists, to explore possibilities, in its myriad forms.

Chobi Mela invites you to propose a theme for its upcoming eighth edition. Proposals will then be debated online and followed by a poll. The most voted theme will be chosen for the next festival and will win an exciting copy of the Chobi Mela VIII catalogue.

Deadline: 28 February 2014

Drop your theme and be a part of world’s most inclusive festival!


Best regards,

Chobi Mela Secretariat
Dhaka, Bangladesh
E-mail: chobimela@drik.net

Life in Dhaka, Bangladesh

It’s messy but it’s home

Posted by: Alex Gallafent TED Blog

The view to the tony residential neighborhood, Gulshan, photographed from the Korail slum. Photo: Mohammad Tauheed. See also Tauheed’s gallery of photos of Dhaka.You could, on first glance, see Dhaka as a fast and loose place, the kind of city that draws people in, churns them around and spits them out after a few tough years. Many in Dhaka face circumstances similar to those in other South Asian cities: poverty, limited education, exploitation. Dhaka itself sits at or near the bottom of rankings of the world’s cities — not a happy picture. Perhaps you read about Dhaka recently because of the political unrest roiling Bangladesh now (the latest national strike was called on November 26, and the capital city often bears the brunt of any political unrest). Or perhaps it was because of the collapse of a garment factory on the outskirts of the city in April 2013, which killed more than 1,000 people, a disaster that shone light on political and civic failings in the city.Yet that headline-driven sketch of the Bangladeshi capital is, of course, incomplete. For a more nuanced picture, you need to talk with someone like the architect, university lecturer and photographer Nurur Rahman Khan, a born and bred “Dhakaite.” As far as he’s concerned, the city may have issues, but the title is an honor.

Sure, as a child, he spent a couple of years living in Liverpool, England, while his father worked towards a Ph.D. But the strength of his feelings toward Dhaka have kept him there for almost his entire life. “It’s what Dhaka does to you: the city is powerful enough to make you want to be a part of it,” he says. Khan’s Dhaka is steeped in culture and history, rooted in the central district of Ramna. In March 1971, when Khan was 6 years old, Ramna was the scene of a famous speech by nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Proclaiming that “our struggle is for our freedom,” Rahman’s speech inspired many in the war with Pakistan that began not long after — a war that resulted in an independent Bangladesh.

A typical street in the Mohakhali area of Dhaka. Photo: Mohammad Tauheed. See also Tauheed’s gallery of photos of Dhaka.

Ramna is also where you’ll find some of the country’s leading academic institutions, including the University of Dhaka and Bangla Academy. Khan’s father was a professor at the university; the family lived in academic housing for almost forty years. His mother taught at a women’s college in the neighborhood. And Khan’s own academic career in architecture took flight in Ramna — the way Khan describes it, his entire immediate family is connected to the area and its academies. (Not his 12-year-old son, though. Not yet.)

Discussing, thinking, debating — these are the social habits that Ramna prompts, says Khan. Instead of going to pubs or nightclubs, Khan and his friends will share tea in homes and cafés late into the night, chewing on the issues of the day. It’s a form of socializing known as addaand, he says, ”you can get hooked on this drug in no time.” Adda is spontaneous and can happen at any time and in any place. Even now, Khan marvels at the flow of such conversations, which range “over many topics and moods, from light to serious, covering daily affairs, friends, events, the past, politics, religion, art, music, nostalgia, common interests, work and study.” It is, he says, “never only about one thing or in one mood.”

Dhaka and Bangladesh are dealing with some serious, intractable issues. Political inertia, deep social inequality and crumbling infrastructure aren’t solved by drinking tea. Yet adda is a central part of city life. In general, says Khan, Dhakaites don’t tend to seek out time alone. “People don’t see a need for personal time,” he adds. Maybe that’s another reason the city’s parks have become dilapidated in recent years: “People just don’t crave peace and quiet.”

See a gallery of photographs of Dhaka, shot by Mohammad Tauheed »

That’s lucky, because there are certainly plenty of distractions. Dhakaites are “big foodies,” Khan says. The smells give the game away: on any corner, “you know that you’re approaching a kebab shop, or a dalpuri shop, or a snack shop or a cha place.” A whiff of all that and Khan knows he’s home. One dish he says visitors can’t avoid (and shouldn’t attempt to) is kacchi biryani. It’s lamb and rice cooked together, an aromatic feast that was a favorite of the Nabobs of Dhaka, Khan says. “They formulated the food taste of the city — the sweet dishes, kebabs, biriyanis, the fine dining. Those tastes used to belong to the rich and elite, but they filtered down to all classes of society. Now a wedding is not complete without a kacchi biriyani.”

In other areas of life, though, Khan sees Dhaka losing its traditions. In the affluent district of Gulshan on the north side of the city, he observes a city rushing to be like its cosmopolitan global counterparts, with its own version of sleek malls, glitzy fusion restaurants and fancy galleries. “Most people there don’t want to get around without their cars,” he says. Further south, in Ramna and elsewhere, more traditional Dhakaites resist such “progress” by “making fun of the nouveau riche. The old people of Dhaka look at them and say, ‘oh come on… who are they trying to show off to?’”

The astonishing Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, Bangladesh’s National Assembly Building, designed by American architect Louis I. Kahn. Photo: Mohammad Tauheed. See also Tauheed’s gallery of photos of Dhaka.

The changes have deepened Khan’s appreciation for the city’s history, an interest that frames his professional work. His architectural firm has designed offices, homes and diplomatic projects, including a renovation of the American embassy in Dhaka. His architectural research takes place in the capital too, a city that marries 500-year-old architecture alongside colonial styles and modern designs. Those include Dhaka’s modernist jewel, the marble-and-concrete Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban (National Assembly Building), northwest of Ramna. It was the last — and arguably greatest — work by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, a hero to his Bangladeshi near-namesake. (Khan has lectured on Kahn around the world.) Opened in 1982, the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban is extraordinary, a colossal floating palace that seems to have equal heft and weightlessness. The building is a powerful statement of democracy and national pride, a sad contrast with the collapsed garment factory on the outskirts of town.

Khan himself no longer lives in Ramna. Along with his father, his wife and his son, he now resides in Dhanmondi, an “upper middle class” residential area fifteen minutes west by car. Khan owns an apartment in a building built for civil servants — one of the first pieces of organized housing outside Ramna. “It’s a great area. People are on their feet or on rickshaws doing their shopping.” When Khan works at his practice, in another part of Dhanmondi, he generally travels by rickshaw, a half-hour journey on a good day.

See a gallery of photographs of Dhaka, shot by Mohammad Tauheed »

Other journeys require a car, such as his undergraduate teaching commitments at BRAC University, east of the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, and North South University, an hour and a half away to the north. Unlike many car owners in Dhaka, Khan says he usually drives himself around town. “We are the only megacity in the world without a good mass-transit system,” he says. Plans to build a subway for Dhaka’s 14 million residents have remained on the drawing board for decades, even as the population has continued to grow. Just as it was in the 1970s, rickshaws and buses remain Dhaka’s principal options for public transportation, but now there are more cars on the road, more noise, more honking. Not that it gets on his nerves. He quotes Delirious New York, the book in which architect Rem Koolhaas suggests that within the noise of a city we find every extreme, or as Koolhaas puts it, both “splendors and miseries.”

Dhaka is not perfect, not by any means. Khan complains that the city seems unable to extract itself from a morass of poor planning and politics. But the chaos requires Dhakaites “to find our way around,” and he still finds that exciting. “Thank god Salvador Dalì wasn’t born in Dhaka,” Khan adds. “He wouldn’t have been very creative here; the city’s already surreal.”

See a gallery of photographs of Dhaka, including the Korail slum, the ritzy neighborhood of Gulshan and the incredible Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, shot for TED by Mohammad Tauheed »

And, check out some of Danny’s favorite places in this annotated map. (Click the pins for more details):

This profile is part of a series of TED articles about interesting people and their life and work in a particular city. See also interviews with Juliana Rotich, a tech entrepreneur in Nairobi, Kenya and Danny Squires, an urban designer in earthquake-devastated Christchurch, New Zealand. For other city-related content, go to TED’s Cities topic page »

Reflections on Chobi Mela VII

By Alakananda Nag


Chobi Mela, a biennale photography festival held in Dhaka, Bangladesh just completed its 7th edition in January 2013. Chobi Mela (literally, photo fair), started in 1999, is Asia’s largest photo festival. This year the theme was Fragility. Chobi Mela has earned its name as an egalitarian platform for any photographer. And one is surprised by the true diversity. Bangladeshi photographer and festival director, Shahidul Alam (also the founder of Drik agency and Bangladeshi photography school Pathshala) points out that major festivals are located in the west, driven by western concerns. It is very difficult for someone from outside to get in. Here, it is possible to see the work of a student alongside that of Eugene Richards (Eugene Richard’s War is Personal was showing at the festival).

Image from Eugene Richard's exhibition "War is personal"
Image from Eugene Richard’s exhibition “War is personal”

Dhaka was abuzz with the activities that were held in multiple venues spanning 2 weeks. It was packed from morning till evening with lectures, discussions, exhibition openings, and presentations. This year there was participation from 23 countries. One would be juggling between looking at the works of young photographers like Mahdieh Merhabibi, Leandro Viana de Paula, Maika Elan in the morning and roll over to the works of icons like Mexican photographer Garciela Iturbide, Australian photographer Max Pam in the evening; stride discussions with passionate Bangladeshi photographers, with photo editors from major publications the world over.


Patrick Witty, International Photo Editor, Time, was excited by the range of photographers. “There are Kurdish students here, there are Iranians here, Nii (a photographer from Ghana), I’ve never even met Nii. Would I meet Nii in Perpignon? No. Would I meet him here? Yes! That’s what’s cool about Chobi Mela.” One of the main reasons Witty went to Chobi Mela is because he wanted to meet a new set of professionals from the photography world. He continues to say this about Bangladeshi photographers: “I knew they are really good photographers, but the level of work is really strong…it’s a small country to have such a strong tradition of photography.”   Munem Wasif, Bangladeshi photographer and teacher at photography school Paatshala says “Chobi Mela is an interesting platform where the whole world comes to this part of the world. I photograph in Bangladesh, but I also show my work to a global audience. In that sense Chobi Mela & I have grown together.”   Veneta Bulen, Group photo Editor, The Guardian stresses this by saying that Chobi Mela brings together the amazing works of unsung photographers who would otherwise not have the opportunity.


Iranian photographer Mahdieh Merhabibi was an actress in her home country. But she got tired of being directed and decided to draw her own path. That’s when she took up photography after dealing with resistance from her family. She decided to leave Iran and traverse a broader geography to find out why and how people live with war.   Nayantara Gurung a Nepalese photographer started the National Photo Archive – an unique repository of Nepalese history through photographs. Gurung presented a slideshow of the inexhaustible work she and her team are doing in Nepal. “It stated as a DIY process” she says.  As a photographer she was always drawn to family photographs, and perhaps that is where a subconscious interest started. Gurung started going to Chobi Mela in 2009. It is an added advantage that it is so close to home and the chance to meet the best industry professionals from the world over as well as from the region. “In 2009 we met people from the Arab Image foundation, and their work really inspired us.”


“My mind is opening wider because I just understand the level of ignorance we have in terms of communication with each other. Maybe that’s what photography is allowing us to do; bridge these differences and to be able to see the common space between us. To see that really we are all in the same planet.” Said Ghanaian photographer Nii Obodai. Nii has also been working to take African photography to the world (he curated a slideshow with works of photographers from West Africa) says he draws his inspiration from Alam. “I’m happy” he says, “my world is becoming broader.”   And the world was becoming broader at Chobi Mela with its diversity. Whether its Hai Zhang, a Chinese photographer based in New York who was seeking inspiration from the range of work showing at the festival or Kurdish photographer Ari Jalal, who was there to just see and learn since such opportunities are still rare back in his country. It was a reflection of the truly global world we live in.   South African photographer Jodi Bieber was conducting a workshop, and gave a telling presentation of her phenomenal work. Iturbide was dividing her time between attending lectures, her own show opening, and merging in the fabric of Bangladesh taking photographs. The philosophy of Chobi Mela for Iturbide has been significant. She feels Alam is vital to the photography world because he made Chobi Mela from nothing.

Shahidul Alam at one of the evening sessions at Goethe Institut
Shahidul Alam at one of the evening sessions at Goethe Institut

“I’m not married to photography,” says Shahidul Alam. But is instead married to what he can do with photography. With the vibrant Chobi Mela VII Alam has more than proven that one can do so much with photography.


By Ananta Yusuf in The Daily Star

Photo: Prabir Das

Taking a stroll around Madhur Canteen, named after Madhu Sudan Dey, a visitor would come across various spots – where students of Dhaka University sit in rows, chatting and possibly planning their future. It is a place where the streets widen to make room for creative minds and the walls are covered with political graffiti and posters. Chairman of Workers Party of Bangladesh, Rashed Khan Menon considered it as a parallel school of progressive thought, politics and rational debates, and till date he believes, “its yard is filled with the leaders of tomorrow.”Family members and former students of Dhaka University remember Madhu Da and the vibrant centre that he unwittingly created that became the epicentre of many significant movements.
There are also amusing stories about this legendary canteen. Madhu Da’s son Arun Kumar Dey talks about a ledger called ‘Na Diye Udhao’ (‘disappeared without paying’) that has a rather eminent list of debtors including the likes of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Ataur Rahman Khan and so on. The historical ledger, however, was lost after Madhu Da’s death in 1971.
Rashed Khan Menon recollects: “I heard that Madhu Da had a ledger called Na Diye Udhao. It contains many well-known names of today.” “Perhaps my name is also there!” he laughs.
“Madhu Da used to visit different government offices to collect his dues. Most of the time such efforts were in vain” he adds. “But still he used to do it cheerfully because I know that he enjoyed visiting old faces.”
Madhu Da was far more than just the canteen operator. Arun Kumar, now the director of Madhur Canteen says that his father always used to help the students and never very particular about retrieving the dues the students owed him.

Today’s Madhur Canteen was once used as a ‘Darbar Hall’ of Nawabs for formal and informal meetings. Photo: Fritz Kapp

He tells the Star, “Sometimes, students mockingly complained that Madhu Da, you charge extra. My father would relply, ‘give me less when you will pay all the dues, it is not possible for me to keep correct accounts all the time’. He was very simple man and always tried to help the students. I believe his long presence among the student leaders made him a political analyst as well.”
During the rule of East Pakistan, before every political movement, student leaders and activists used to gather at Madhur Canteen. It was for this that after the military crackdown by the Pakistani army, Madhu Sudan Dey was killed in the dark night of March 26, 1971.
Arun recalls the agonising incident, “My brother and his wife were the first victims. When they arrested my father, my mother tried to save him. But, they did not care and started firing. My mother died instantly while my father fell to the ground with one bullet hitting himone of his hands. And then they dragged my father to Jagannath Hall playground. There he was killed with many students.” Since then, Arun Kumar Dey has been running the canteen.
Like a fresco, the canteen’s ceiling is painted in green and red stretching from east to west. Today’s Madhur Canteen once used as a ‘Darbar Hall’ of Nawabs for formal and informal meetings. Built as a skating rink and a ballroom for the Nawabs, it was later converted into a dining hall and meeting place for students and faculty of Dhaka University. This is where the Muslim League of India was formed in 1906.

Like a fresco, the canteen’s ceiling is painted in green and red stretching from east to west. Photo: Prabir Das

The history of Madhur Canteen dates back to 1921, late Aditya Chandra Dey, started the Canteen with his fifteen-year-old sons Madhu. At that time they used to sell different types of sweets and confectionary. In 1935, soon after Aditya Chandra’s death, Madhusudan Dey began to run the Canteen. Gradually he became a popular figure among the student leaders and became fondly known as “Madhuda”. His towering popularity changed the Canteen’s billboard and within years it was renamed Madhur Canteen.
In the late 1960s, Madhur Canteen became a focal point for planning student protests against the West Pakistan regime. Flanked on one side by the Arts Faculty of Dhaka University and on the other by the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), till date the Madhur Canteen remains a powerful political symbol in the country.
In 1995, Toufiq Hosen Khan a second year student of fine arts engraved a sculpture of Madhu Sudan Dey, which remains as a reminiscence of Madhu Da, who connect himself with the protest and struggle of the people in 1971. In an interview with the Star Toufiq says, “Madhu Da is one of the inspiring figures and a role model for the students and he is also a martyr of the Liberation War. So I wanted to do something that will stay as a permanent mark of respect and to tell the students about Madhu Da.”

Waiting for My Own Mandela?

By Nalaka Gunawardene?courtesy Groundviews.org

Banner outside Drik in Dhanmondi celebrating Nelson Mandela's (Madiba) 95th Birthday The bed next to him is in Fatima Meer?s house at 148 Burnwood Road, Durban, where Mandela, Tutu, Sisulu and Tambo would take shelter in. 15th July 2009. South Africa. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World.
Banner outside Drik in Dhanmondi celebrating Nelson Mandela’s (Madiba) 95th Birthday The bed next to him is in Fatima Meer?s house at 148 Burnwood Road, Durban, where Mandela, Tutu, Sisulu and Tambo would take shelter in. (Mandela Photo taken on 10th July 2009. Beg photo taken on 15th July 2009. South Africa. This photo taken on 18th July 2013. All three photos by ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World.

I never met Nelson Mandela in person, but once listened to him live.
I watched him speak — in his characteristically thoughtful and cheerful manner ? for a few minutes, and was mesmerized. Continue reading “Waiting for My Own Mandela?”

A Final Embrace: The Most Haunting Photograph from Bangladesh

Words and photo by Taslima Ahkter in Time

Many powerful photographs have been made in the aftermath of the devastating collapse of a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. But one photo, by Bangladeshi photographer Taslima Akhter, has emerged as the most heart wrenching, capturing an entire country?s grief in a single image.
Shahidul Alam, Bangladeshi photographer, writer and founder of Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography, said of the photo: ?This image, while deeply disturbing, is also hauntingly beautiful. An embrace in death, its tenderness rises above the rubble to touch us where we are most vulnerable. By making it personal, it refuses to let go. This is a photograph that will torment us in our dreams. Quietly it tells us. Never again.? Continue reading “A Final Embrace: The Most Haunting Photograph from Bangladesh”

Bangladesh Building Collapse Kills at Least 70

By??New York Times

  • A.M. Ahad/Associated Press
    NEW DELHI ? An eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed several garment factories collapsed on Wednesday morning, killing at least 70 people, injuring hundreds of others, and leaving an unknown number of people trapped in the rubble, according to Bangladeshi officials and media outlets. Continue reading “Bangladesh Building Collapse Kills at Least 70”

The state of medical care

I came across this man yesterday. He was sitting on the footpath on VIP road (near the Tourism Department) carefully adjusting the rocks he had placed on his legs. There were smaller pieces he used to make fine adjustments to weights. He was neither begging, nor seeking attention, but merely trying to treat himself.
He had apparently been hit by a bus, had gone to Mohakhali hospital, but received no treatment.

BLACK NIGHT 1971 Bangladesh

By Monirul Alam

The black night of March 25, 1971 when the Pakistani occupation forces kicked off one of the worst genocides in history that led to a nine-month war for the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
On this black night in the nation?s history, the Pakistani military rulers launched ?Operation Searchlight?, killing some thousand people in that night?s crackdown alone.?As part of the operation, tanks rolled out of Dhaka cantonment and a sleeping city woke up to the rattles of gunfire as the Pakistan army attacked the halls at Dhaka University, the then East Pakistan Rifles (now Border Guard Bangladesh) headquarters and Rajarbagh Police Lines, killing the several thousand unarmed Bengalis on the single night. The planned and designated centres of offensive operations under that plan were Dhaka, Khulna, Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Saidpur and Sylhet? areas, where West Pakistani army units were concentrated. Continue reading “BLACK NIGHT 1971 Bangladesh”