beri bandh

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Wasn’t sure how it would work out.  But it was an interesting suggestion from Lino. “Just do what interests you. Take what grabs your eye” she had said.

The embankment in Rayerbazaar was built to protect the big city from the floods.  Communities have grown around it. Mostly  migrant workers in search of work. Many who have lost their homes to the river.

Majeda, our home help. Lives there too. Her husband suggested we meet at the mosque. We agreed to meet on Monday the 1st November, before sunrise. “You’ve just ruined your prospects” my partner Rahnuma, reminded me. “There’ll be a whole crowd, and you won’t be able to work. “

Well it was done. I had just come back from the Long March and hadn’t really slept the last two nights. Cleaning the lenses. Making sure I had enough memory cards. Recharging batteries. Some money for the day. I was set. Went to bed early. The alarm woke me up. But it was pitch dark, and turning it off I dosed off again, waking up in panic a few minutes later. It didn’t matter. It was a cloudy day and the early morning sun I had wanted to catch was nowhere to be seen.

All geared up, I rode my bicycle in search of the mosque, stopping on the way to take the odd photograph. One picture of the sunlight gleaning on a grilled closed gate, was the only sunlit image I had that day.

Makeshift rooftop where the building had been opened up. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The market place was a delight. People setting up shop, fishmongers arranging their fish in neat shapes. Narrow lanes lit by streaks of light leaking through the tarpaulin slits on the roof were newly swept and glistening. I walked up the stairs to the rooftop, which looked more like an unfinished construction site than a bazaar rooftop.  Only later did I learn that it had been a three storied building which was being torn down, to make room for a multistoried modern marketplace. Most of the shops had moved to nearby buildings, Only the ‘kacha bazaar’ where perishables were sold, was still operating on the ground floor. There were still a few dress and shoe shops on the edges, waiting to move.

kadar moton ghumai literally translates to 'sleeping like sand'. It is generally used for small children who drape themselves around their mother, sleeping as if the world didn't exist. These children work long hours, often carrying heavy loads. Sleeping on a concrete floor under the open sky, might not be luxury. But when the body screams for rest, sleep comes easy. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The barren cityscape was worlds away from the bustle below. Three boys slept, huddled together, oblivious to the day having started. Crows perched on the rod ends of the concrete slabs. Gaping holes in the roof showed through the bazaar and the streets underneath. Looking up, many saw me and insisted they be photographed. Others busy with work were oblivious to my presence.

The man didn't look particularly old but claimed to be one of the earliest residents of Rayerbazaar. He told me about the Ray family that gave rise to the name of the place, about the early taxation system, and how he hoped this mandir would be preserved. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World/PAPA

Most people have a 'tabiz'. They are usually small pieces of paper with writings from the Quran, packed in little tubes or small caskets. They are often tied around hte waist or the arm, or as in this case worn as a pendant. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World/PAPA

The mandir next to the mosque had small banyan trees clinging to the old decaying bricks. Bulbulis had made their homes in the gaps in the bricks. I mused on what I was doing . On the fact that there was no pressure at all on me ‘doing’ anything. I was doing what I loved to do. Taking pictures of whatever pleased me. It was the loveliest of combinations. A commissioned personal project. Rare in these days of diminishing opportunities. I decided I didn’t need all this gear, and went back to leave the big DSLRs and long lenses behind. I was going to spend the rest of the day with my compact. Not fully sure of my decision, I took one DSLR body with a wide lens with me. Just in case.

By the time I returned, I was a known face. A shopkeeper brought out his pet mouse and insisted it be photographed. Mice are generally hated by shopkeepers and I was struck by how lovingly he stroked the little animal, which was least interested in the photographer!

I took some interviews of shopkeepers getting their take on why the price of rice had escalated. Then went on to the river nearby. There was no rush, and I stopped on the way at the butchers and the blacksmiths. He complained that many had taken photographs but he’d never been given a print. Giving him a card and promising to return next Monday, I rode ahead. Past the sewage pipes, a funeral procession, an entire rooftop being relocated…

The precision required in placing the fragile clay pots is difficult to gauge. Once each circle of pots is in position, the men tap the pots to hear for any irregularities. When the sound is right, the next circle starts. As they come up the ramp from the river, it is as if they are emerging from the earth. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

A boat full of pots had berthed and I sat fascinated by the careful precision with which the fragile contents were offloaded, packed and taken pile high through the busy traffic. Then, as I was heading back, a deafening thump. A motorbike running at speed had rammed into me. Dazed on the tarmac, I realized I was badly hurt. The bleeding from the ear didn’t bode well. People came rushing. I had enough sense to ensure no one tried to ‘help’ me in an overenthusiastic manner. “jate matal tale thik” (might be drunk, but his rhythm’s OK) I thought. Except for a kid who poked his oily finger on my lens, neither of my cameras had been damaged. I’d instinctively shielded them during my fall!

Putting my mangled bike and my mangled body on a rickshaw. With the help of a passerby, who held on to the bike and me as we weaved our way through the bazaar traffic, I made my way home.

My sister and my brother-in-law, both doctors, came to see me. They wanted me to go to the hospital. I wanted guests to leave so I could get on with my work. Pictures needed to be uploaded. Propping myself on the bed, so the laptop could be perched in a manner that would allow me to type with my good left hand, and my right shoulder, arm and leg be propped so it hurt less, I finally got on to the Net and sent a cryptic message to Lino. Later, when the pain had become more manageable, I sent two images to Lino, asking her to upload for me.

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This entry was posted in Bangladesh, Photography, Photojournalism, Shahidul Alam, South Asia and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to beri bandh

  1. Dick Doughty says:

    Are you feeling better? bleeding from an ear is NOT GOOD. Take care of yourself my friend!!!!!!!! Denial is inefficient because it can make for more problems later.

  2. Oh!! u came back safe from the Long March.I saw u taking risky positions to take snaps during the last meeting in Fulbari.The stage was very week and shaking.I had the experience of collapsing stage.Back in Dhaka u suffered an accident.It seems serious.Please take care.U may know that recently one teacher and a mother trying to defend girls were killed by eve teasers.Incidentally both were murdered by dashing motor cycle.Waiting to see ur photos of the Long March.

  3. Niaz says:

    Sorry to learn of your accident. Hope you are fully recovered by now.

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