Monthly Archives: April 2009

A Death in Shakhari Bazar

Durga Puja, Shakari Bazar

A few months ago I was video taping some interviews in Shakhari Bazar, the Hindu neighborhood of  Old Dhaka with one of the students from IUB. We talked with two men that made and sold Indian musical instruments. Their shop had been in the same location for over one hundred years and has remained in the family for several generations.

Two weeks ago as I  was walking in Old Dhaka one of the men I had interviewed recognized me and asked if I could make him a copy of the video tape.  It so happened that the other man I filmed had a heart attack and passed away shorty after the interview.

Shibu Jose

When Shibu Jose (pronouced Joes) emailed me six months ago I had assumed he was from Latin America. It turns out that he’s from Kerala, India and is the other Fulbright scholar in the Environmental Science department at IUB this semester. Shibu is an Associate Professor of Forest Ecology with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He attended Purdue University, the same school my father in law taught at.

We live in the same guest house here in Dhaka and have been sharing countless meals together since his arrival in January. It’s been great getting to know him.  Always nice to have someone to commiserate with during the frequent power outages. Shibu is the one who suggested that I read “The White Tiger”, an excellent novel about modern day India. So much of that book describes what I’ve been seeing in Bangladesh these past nine months.

Under the Midday Sun

According to one of my neighbors, the power outages this summer, up to 5 or 6 hours a day, are much worse then previous years. It hit 40c today and many parts of the city are facing water shortages. There isn’t enough electricity to provide adequate pressure.

It’s an ordinary afternoon in Dhaka. I’m on my way across town waiting in traffic. There is a crowd of onlookers blocking traffic. I get out of the CNG to see what is happening. A giant bulldozer is demolishing a row of one story houses.  A man from the crowd approaches me and  says “this is the way our government takes care of us.” He invites me for tea but the heat has zapped all of my remaining energy.

Pohela Boishakh- Bangla New Year

Ramna Park, Dhaka

Last week Bangladesh celebrated their New Year. The historical importance of Pohela Boishakh in the Bangladeshi context began in 1965. In an attempt to suppress Bengali culture, the Pakistani Government had banned poems written by Rabindranath Tagore, the most famous poet and writer in Bengali literature. Protesting this move, Chhayanat opened their Pohela Boishakh celebrations at Ramna Park with Tagore’s song welcoming the month. The day continued to be celebrated in East Pakistan as a symbol of Bengali culture. After 1972 it became a national festival, a symbol of the Bangladesh nationalist movement.

Shooting Pohela Boishakh

Sometimes it’s an advantage to be a foreigner. I had left my press pass at home but the SWAT team like special forces assigned to the event (center) let me use the platform to video tape from. A few years back there was a bomb blast in Ramna Park during Pohela Boishakh so security was heightened.

Scenes from the Rupsha River Ghat in Khulna

In Khulna I gravitated towards the docks along the Rupsha river. Over-sized motorized row boats ferry passengers across the river in a couple of minutes. For those of you not from Bangladesh that boat hanging in mid air is the symbol for the Awami League, Sheik Hasina’s political party. Their slogan from last December’s election was “Vote for the Boat.”

Near the muddy banks of the river there are many shrimp processing plants and timber mills. At first I assumed the man with his head chopped  off  in the above photo was the girls father but by the way he held her that apparently was not the case. Although he was playful and laughing the situation was disturbing. I photographed it the way I felt it.  Lost childhood…most everyone in this country grows up before their time.

It was a Friday and most of the men were dressed in freshly washed white Punjabis on their way to the Mosque. It struck me that there is a stronger Islamic presence in Khulna- so many of the women who ventured out on the streets were covered from head to toe in black.

On the Road in Bangladesh

On the road in Khulna

Bangladesh must have one of the highest rates of vehicle accidents in the world.  I  was traveling in Khulna last week and read the article below in the newspaper. It occurred on the same road I was traveling on only one hour later.

Khulna, Bangladesh – Two speeding passenger buses crashed into each other in southern Bangladesh on Thursday, killing at least 11 people and injuring another 50. Rescuers recovered the bodies of nine people from the wreckage after the collision in Bagerhat district, south of the capital, Dhaka, United News of Bangladesh said. About 50 injured people, some in serious condition, have been taken to hospitals, the report said, quoting unnamed police sources. The report provided no further details. Fatal road accidents, blamed on rash driving and faulty vehicles, claim some 12,000 lives each year in Bangladesh, according to government figures.

The  bus that I was on was completely chaotic. The teenager who collected the fares was physically abusing some of the passengers. I gave him a piece of my mind after he pushed a woman passenger with her child to the back in order to squeeze more people in. It was good that I did. The next time he passed me he kept saying “sorry.” What was more disconcerting was the driver who intermittently kept turning his head around for a few seconds while driving.

IUB Photography Workshop

Photo © Mohammad Zakir Hossain

I just wrapped up a four day Photography workshop at IUB and wasn’t so sure that it was going to come together until the last minute. On the last day as I was showing the students how to construct a multimedia presentation we had power cuts- they call it load shedding here- almost every other hour on the hour. For some reason the IPS back up power supply didn’t work either. Some guy, or maybe a woman, decides which neighborhood get turned off.  IUB is located in  Baridhara, the wealthiest part of the country. Lack of electricity and water are much more severe in other parts of the city.

Photo © Asif Khan

Bangladeshis are extremely resourceful and pull together when they have to. When the power finally returned, we made a final edit, sequenced the photos and made a couple of title images. With only a few minutes left we changed locations and presented our work to an enthusiastic audience. I better post this now before the power goes out again.