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.
Sadarghat ferry terminal, Old Dhaka
One of the places that I’m most drawn to is Sadarghat- the ferry terminal in old Dhaka. It’s one of the largest ports in the world. Over 30,000 people- it seems like many more- use the terminal each day. The shrill of sirens sound like an air raid as boats depart and arrive from the countryside. Wide-eyed families look as though they came from another planet. What are they thinking? Have their dreams of beginning a new life already been shattered the instant they arrive. The children are often dressed in their finest outfits- little girls in pink and red frilly dresses.
The first thing they must do is haggle with the rickshaw pullers and CNG drivers. Where are these people going? Maybe the father has the name of a family member or friend from back home? They will probably soon end up in one of the many slums throughout the city. The men will become rickshaw pullers and in a few years if she is lucky that little girl in the pink dress will become a garment worker.
Poster of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, founding father of Bangladesh & father of current Prime Minister
“We are extremely mournful for this black night. We esteem the great heroes who died for our country and saved all happiness by giving blood on the street. Happy Independence Day.”
—Text message received from a friend moments after I made this exposure
This years official Independence Day ceremonies were cancelled, the first time in the country’s history, because of what happened on Feburary 25th. I was in Old Dhaka and saw a larger number of security forces present. The only other thing I noticed that was different were the bull horns strung up on utility poles blasting patriotic speeches (pre-recorded?) with what sounded like the national athem in the background.
Sifat & Sharmin. Photo: Khaled Mahfuz Saeef
Sifat Azam, one of the instructors in the Development Studies program at IUB invited me to join her and some friends on a trip to old Dhaka last weekend. It’s sad but true that in this city of utter gridlock the only day traffic moves is on Friday. First we met near Dhaka University and had lunch at the Star restaurant. We then all headed to a photo exhibition in Shakhari Bazaar. It was fun playing tourist with them and all going to Ahsan Manzil together.
Farhan, Khaled and yours truly
Dhaka has surprisingly few landmarks or attractions for a city its size. It’s all about the people. One of the highlights was speeding through the narrow streets of the old city in a rickshaw with Khaled and Farhan. Each were good sports riding shotgun on top of the seat. Now that must really hurt. People here are absolutely picture crazy- not unlike my daughters I presume. They seem to take as much pleasure in snapping photos of each other as being in them. Then again Khaled might be an exceptional case.
I thought of the late great Marvin Gaye and his song this morning. Between “what’s going on” in Mumbai and Bangkok, Dhaka feels like a sea of calm. The locals here feel awful about what is happening in India and to be honest I haven’t felt any hostility since I arrived almost four months ago. It’s important that the west doesn’t label all Muslims as terrorists. Most of the people I’ve met are to busy inviting me for tea. The situation can change very fast especially since elections are coming up on December 29th, but that’s about local politics which I’ll save that for another post.
Photo by Kira Kariakin
Yesterday I did another photo workshop with the young woman from Nari Jibon a non profit organization that trains woman in computer technology, internet skills and photography. They also have a training program that teaches woman tailoring. There clients come from working class families and have really taken to photography. It was wonderful to see their enthusiam and self confidence.
Peter Dench, a British photographer who was recently featured on Verve Photo used the right word to describe the Bangladeshi’s. They work beyond belief when they can find work and seem to take the rest in stride. I’ve been exploring Old Dhaka- roaming the maze of streets- some so narrow that two people can barely pass at the same time. Each block contains workshops and tiny store fronts that cater to a particular trade.
It must have been over 110 degrees inside of this cave like interior tucked away down an alley in old Dhaka. The boys inside were fixing a contraption that resembled an oil furnace. Next to them another man operated a machine the makes imprints for the rubber toe inserts that are attached to thongs. I wonder how many people fall ill from working in these conditions and not drinking water for the entire day during the month of Ramadan.
A few days ago in the early morning – to avoid all the traffic- I went to old Dhaka. By the time I arrived the streets were packed and before I knew what hit me the strap on my sandal was sliced off like butter by a rickshaw. Yes it’s true I was walking in the middle of the street like everyone else. There was no where else to walk. Some of those rickshaws can weigh up to several hundred pounds when they are loaded with whatever or transport a family. If the driver was a few millimeters closer I would hate to think about what would have happened to my right toes. I asked one of the employees at the guesthouse to take my sandal to one of the shoe repair men on the street. Two hours later it was at my door as good as new. The cost was five Taka, about seven cents.