Happy Birthday Drik!

At 24 years Drik has grown up handsomely and I can well imagine the excitement, preparation going on at Drik now. So, here’s wishing the very best of times in the years ahead and some photo memories of the happy and unforgettable couple of years I spent among great friends at Drik. It’s a quicky A- Z romp through Drik during my time there.

A – is for Alam Bhai, the bearded, bicycle riding, founder Director of Drik — the creator, the innovator, his Amazing network of friends and his even more Aamazing & Awesome global fan club. Not to be forgotten A is also for the Audio Visual Department, where I spent many hours working with colleagues.

Shahidul Alam waits to be interviewed at Chobi Mela IV, Dhaka.  11 September 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Shahidul Alam waits to be interviewed at Chobi Mela IV, Dhaka.
11 September 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Shahidul Alam & David Burnett on the Drik Terrace after the launch of the Book and Film Birth Pangs of a Nation. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Shahidul Alam & David Burnett on the Drik Terrace after the launch of the Book and Film Birth Pangs of a Nation. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

B– is for the Banglarights website — I was a part of the team that set it up first in 2001 &  for Beards and moustaches that came in all sizes, shapes & shades at Drik.

Topu and Nipun in the Drik Publications Department. Chobi Mela IV visit to Drik, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 15 Nov. 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Topu and Nipun in the Drik Publications Department. Chobi Mela IV visit to Drik, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 15 Nov. 2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

C  – is for Chobi Mela that gives everyone an  adrenalin high & of course the inimitable Drik Calendars

.On my visit to Chobi Mela IV. Photographer unknown

First visit to Chobi Mela IV, 2006. Photographer unknown

D – is for DPA – Drik Picture Agency — the first of its kind in Asia housing and archiving  incredible amount of valuable photographs. But what I remember is the team I worked with while I was there.

Joined in friendship at Drik Picture Agency (DPA) celebrating Valentine's Day.  Hands of Moinak, Tapu, Falan, Moly, Doli, Nargish,Shefali. February1 4, 2012. Drik, Dhaka, 2012. Photo Abul Kashem.

Joined in friendship at Drik Picture Agency (DPA) celebrating Valentine’s Day. Hands of Moinak, Tapu, Falan, Moly, Doli, Nargish,Shefali. February1 4, 2012. Drik, Dhaka, 2012. Photo Abul Kashem.

E – is for  Exhibitions — a continuous stream of exhibitions were on at the two galleries.

F –  is for Fine Art Prints Drik

G – is for Gallery

H – is for Hugs. Gosh! there were hugs, hugs & hugs at Drik. A very very huggable environment.

I – is for  Images there were plenty and sometimes we couldn’t remember who took them even! I is also for Interns — Anna, Bai Xi, Yan, Nabil, Barbara, Diya and all the other young ones I worked with at one time or another.

Happy days at Chobi Mela VI Secretariat with Left to Right  Anna Hofsäß, Mostafa Sorower, Adnan Wahid. 26 October 2010

Happy days at Chobi Mela VI Secretariat with Left to Right Anna Hofsäß, Mostafa Sorower, Adnan Wahid. 26 October 2010

J – is for Jokes and for Jingles of songs – everyone sang – romantic, heart rending beautiful songs  and some taught me the first few words “chokh khulle dekhi tomake. …”

K –  is for Karma, the unseen linking force that took me to Drik. …

L – is for lunch room the fun, joking and also the place  we groaned about work letting off steam and  L is also for unforgettable Lisa with that haunting smile.

M-  is for Manthan Award for RVJN and there is Majority World 

N –  is for National pride, never a shortage of it — you see it in the strong activists and the DNA Newsletters that were so fun to compile.

Bangladesh garment workers call for their rights on May Day 2011. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Bangladesh garment workers call for their rights on May Day 2011.
Photograph© Chulie de Silva

O –  is for Oops! for the mistakes we made trying to juggle too many tasks, but damage control kicked in fast with many supporters.

P – is for Photography, Publishing departments. And the much awaited Pay day. Fun was working with my colleague Mahbub in publishing putting designs together with the maestro on graphics Reza, giving us valuable points on fine tuning a design. The last design I think, that Mahbub and I worked on was this for the Jamini mag.

Drik Ad for JaminiB2Q – is for Queen’s Museum of Art in New York where the Crossfire exhibition was held in April 2012.

R –  is for RVJN,  the creative Rural Visual Journalism Network, the rooftop at Drik and the many Rickshaws and Rickshaw wallas who ferried me to and fro from Drik.

S —is for Shingara, and all the shingara and cake parties we had.

Lisa, Falan and I in happier times. 1 January 2012. Photograph Drik Photography Dept.

Lisa, Falan, Kashem and I in happier times. 1 January 2012. Photograph Drik Photography Dept.

T – is for Tea — Cha the ever favourite cuppa and of course for Terrace at Drik.

U – is for Unwavering, Unafraid, Unbowed all good words to describe Drik

V –  is for vision that Drik is.

W – is for World Press Photo – long time supporter of Drik

X – is for the  X factor of Drik — hard to understand at times, difficult to pin down but there it is — that’s what an X-factor is.

Y – is for You All of you at Drik, that I remember with affection.

Z –  is for Zippy even amidst all the hard work there is time to share a laugh and we were Zippy!

The terrace at Drik is the favourite place for photos. There's always someone with a camera. Not sure who took this photo but it was a good joke.

The terrace at Drik is the favourite place for photos. There’s always someone with a camera. Not sure who took this photo but it was a good joke.

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Oxford Baths, Well Baths & GNT

A couple of my friends have asked me what’s an Oxford Bath after I mentioned it in my blog Benny’s Point. Very simply it is what these boys are doing in Dhaka — bathing in the nude.

Boys in Dhaka having Oxford baths in a city lake. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Boys in Dhaka having Oxford baths in a city lake. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

I had heard this term when I was a kid in the 1950s when indoor bathrooms with piped in water were not so common. My aunts would go to the front house “Mangala Giri” saying they are going for an Oxford Bath in the closed bathroom.

A year or so ago, my memory was refreshed when I saw it on the heading of an article by Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala titled “An Oxford bath for Sri Lankan Diplomacy.” In this article he gives probably the origin of the term “Oxford Bath.” “An old joke, shared between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, relates how an elderly Cambridge Professor visited his Professor friend in Oxford. It was a hot summer day and the two men decided to swim in the nude in a secluded spot along the Isis River. Suddenly a bevy of women undergraduates rode past on bicycles. The Cambridge Professor hastily grabbed his towel and wore it round his waist. The Oxford Professor, however, frantically wrapped his towel around his head hiding his face. As the giggling girls retreated the Cambridge Professor asked the Oxford don why he only covered his face. The reply he received was, “Well, in Oxford, some of us are better recognized by our faces”!

Boys  bath in a shallow stream, Kilinochchi. Bathing in the open is always more fun than in a closed bathroom. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Boys bath in a shallow stream, Kilinochchi. Bathing in the open is always more fun than in a closed bathroom. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Thus Amb. Dhanapala says throughout the English-speaking world, the “Oxford bath” has come to mean a bath in the nude. But only we oldies remember this term and it is now probably not in use now!. Even when we had bathrooms, a well bath in the sun, the cool refreshing water sans chlorine was my choice.

The well was an important water source and still is for many in Sri Lanka, who do not have piped water. Wells and access to water were also high in the priority for many people resettling after the ending of the war. Seeing this abandoned well in a property next to the hotel we stayed In Jaffna in 2009 was very poignant. I remembered my own childhood and many happy hours at the well, as children and then as teenagers with our neighbhour Dayanathi  and “girlie talks” amidst dousing ourselves with buckets of cold, refreshing water.

ffna., Sri Lanka  1 Sep 2009. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

An abandoned well in Jaffna., Sri Lanka 1 Sep 2009. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

My Great-grandma’s house had an inside bathroom but the domestics had to carry water from the well and fill huge vats inside for anyone who wanted to bathe inside. While we had baths inside when we were very small, as soon as we were old enough we would bath at the well. Even after a sea bath at Hikkaduwa, we’d rush to the well and pour buckets of fresh water to wash the sticky salt out.

In Pandura we were told to bath with only 20 buckets of water -10 first, soap your self and 10 more. Otherwise, we were warned we’ll catch our death with pneumonia. These dire warnings along with the directive was often totally ignored. Ceclin our maid/cook, the majordomo at that time was not averse to keeping an ear cocked while we were at the well. She knew me too well and would yell  from inside the kitchen, “Chulie Baby, are you bathing to soak your bones!” (In Sinhala — Ata pegennakang nanawada?). Many years later when I met her she still called me “baby” and had not lost her sense of humour.

Cecilin our maid, laughs remembering our childhood pranks. Panadura, Sri Lanka..Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cecilin our maid, laughs remembering our childhood pranks. Panadura, Sri Lanka..Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Village life in some parts of Lanka has still not changed. For many, the trek to the river or stream or even a man made water tank is a daily ritual. This often happens mid-day, like the man in the photo above at Mahdangasweva. Or  the bath is at the end of the day, when all work is done.

A woman returns after an evening bath in a stream at Mahavillachiya, Sri Lanka. 22 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

A woman returns after an evening bath in a stream at Mahavillachiya, Sri Lanka. 22 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

My male friends would schedule trips to villagers around the times these women bathe and referred to these times as GNT — in Sinhalese meaning Ganu ( women) Nana ( bathing) Times.

You may as well ask Why? because the bathing costume was a sarong or a wide piece of cloth, called the “Diya Redda” ( literally the Water/wet Cloth).  This they wore covering the breasts and reaching to knee level. Once wet, the cloth clung to the body — need I say more?

A girl returns from a bath in the stream wearing a "diya redda" Heeloya, Sri Lanka. 16 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A girl returns from a bath in the stream wearing a “diya redda” Heeloya, Sri Lanka. 16 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cold in Dhaka

A street seller on the last day of the year through criss crossing telephone wires.Photo Chulie de Silva.

A street seller on the last day of the year through criss crossing telephone wires.Photo Chulie de Silva.

This was the last day of the year, 31 Dec., 2012, the last pics for the year but sadly the fog still continues and its still foggy mornings and cold nights.  My sympathies are with the poor and homeless sleeping in the streets.

Foggy morning view of the street where I live. from my flat. Lalmatia, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo Chulie de Silva

Foggy morning view of the street where I live. from my flat. Lalmatia, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo Chulie de Silva

DrikDNA Newsletter August-September 2012

This is a newsletter I write for Drik, Bangladesh. In a way, it is a part of my Drik Diary. Captured in it are many memories of my colleagues and friends here. The night before Drik Day the place was a hive of activity. The excitement was palpable. I hope it gives you a glimpse of my life@Drik and this exciting one stop shop for visual solutions.

For past newsletters see: http://drik.net/activities/newsletter/

For more on Drik: www.drik.net

The Supermoon over Lalmatia, Dhaka.

This weekend brought the biggest, brightest full moon for 100 years and right on Vesak Day.  This moon’s closest approach to the earth in its elliptical orbit resulted in the largest apparent size as seen by us earthlings.  Legends of the full moon’s effect on humans have long been debated.  Interestingly the words “lunacy” and “lunatic” are derived from the same Latin root that gives us the word “lunar.” People have often attributed intermittent insanity to the phases of the moon.

A perigee moon, or supermoon, rises above the apartment buildings over Lalmatia, Dhaka. May 6, 2012. Photograph Chulie de Silva

The tsunami happened on a full moon day, and this last weekend astrologers were happily predicting an intense emotionally packed weekend.  Although increased risk of events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were also predicted none of that came to pass.

Frescoe of the birth of Lord Buddha, Kumarakande Rajamaha Vihara, Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka. 21 January, 2012. Photograph Chulie de Silva

Here in Dhaka, they call it Buddha Purnima or Buddha’s birthday. Most here in Dhaka  have only a feint idea of Buddhism or what Vesak means to Buddhists. They are not that different from my co-workers in a library in Liverpool, UK. Many at that time knew little about Buddhism. I recalled how then my friend Angela tried to help me as I struggled to explain to a row of blank English faces what Buddhism was.  She butted in saying “To know what Buddhism is you need to understand what this Buddha fellow (pronounced fellah)  said….”

Buddhism thrived in Bangladesh region till the 12th century AD, an officially it is the third major religion. In the Chittagong division Buddhists make up about 12% of the population. The supermoon probably had some effect because I ended up visiting the Basabo Buddhist Monastery in Dhaka. My visit was arranged by my friend and colleague  who is a Hindu and his wife a Muslim.  We  didn’t think of it then but as I write now I realise  that we three represented the three major religions in Bangladesh.

The bronze Buddha statue at Basabo Buddhist Monastery, Dhaka. May 6, 2012.

The upright large bronze statue was a gift from Myanmar (Burma) to the monastery. Dhaka, Bangladesh. May 6, 2012. Photograph Chulie de Silva.

There might be only a few Buddhists in Dhaka but the monastery was packed with people.  It reminded me of past Vesak’s in Sri Lanka when we used to walk across Colombo to see the pandals.

The illuminated Buddha Statue on Vesak Day. Dhaka, Bangladesh. May 6, 2012. Photograph Chulie de Silva.

The lights came on as we left, with crowds still streaming in.  They came not dressed in white except for one elderly lady I saw lighting joss sticks. The clothes were colourful as always and there were plenty of cameras clicking away. My friends from Chittagong knew the young scholar priest Rev. Dharmananda and all of us joined another Buddhist who also came from Chittagong in a small ceremony to remember and bless our dead relatives. The monastery commenced in 1949 said another Buddhist dayaka who joined us and was pleased to know I was a Buddhist from Lanka. The priests chamber was a quiet haven amidst the throng of people outside.  However, this was not the day for a discussion. We promised the young scholar priest that we would come for another visit to learn more about Buddhism in Bangladesh.  I wanted to get back to the roof top of my apartment building to see the supermoon… Oops! I’ve come a full circle on this blog, so till next midnight blogging — bye.

Vesak musings in Dhaka

    Women sell large pink lotus flowes near the Kalutara Temple. The gentle green sprouting bo -sapling on the concret pillar behind her and the white obituary notice on the concrete pillar saying life is transient sums up the cycle of birth and death. Significant in the the pali stanzas recited when flowers are offered is:     "Puppham malayati yatha idam me     kayoa tatha yati vinasa-bhavam." -- Even as these the flowers must fade, so does my body march to a state of destruction." Kalutara, Sri Lanka. December 26, 2008. Photo Chulie de Silva

Women sell large pink lotus flowers near the Kalutara Temple. The flower buds and white obituary notice on the concrete pillar saying life is transient sums up the cycle of birth and death. Significant in the the Pali stanzas recited when flowers are offered is:
“Puppham malayati yatha idam me
kayoa tatha yati vinasa-bhavam.” — Even as these the flowers must fade, so does my body march to a state of destruction.” Kalutara, Sri Lanka. December 26, 2008. Photo Chulie de Silva

The street below me is slowly waking up. The coolness and the soft gentle night of Dhaka will slowly and surely be replaced by chatter, noise, blaring of horns, the cries of the street vendors and the harsh light bringing with it the sweltering heat. Peering out through a tangle of telephone and electricity wires on a still cool and balmy morning I see a vendor with a basin of mangoes on his head and a vegetable seller his rickshaw van piled with glistening vegetables. He stops the cha walla who sells tea from a large flask for an early morning cuppa and they both sit on their haunches and shares a smoke.  A daily maid in a brightly clad red saree with two lasses in equally bright salwars walk passes them, wrapped in their own chatter. The garbage cart with the two young boys is further up the street.  I had watched a street fight between these two young lads and a bigger guy a couple of days ago on the way to work. The young had fought ferociously guarding their territory to operate. This is Dhaka, my abode for the present – I am a stranger – a bideshi – I do not belong but yet am very much a part of it; they are not my family here but am already wrapped in the myriads of issues of my coworkers – so are they my karmic connections? I am not sure if this is a past karma or I am making new Karma – fragments of thoughts, vignettes of life flit across my mind this Vesak as I peer down at the street.

Morning sweeper at Lalmatia, Dhaka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Morning sweeper at Lalmatia, Dhaka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Back in Sri Lanka people will be trekking to temple– my family to the Katudampe temple.

Detail from a frescoe at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Detail from a frescoe at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Today they say the moon will be the biggest, brightest full moon for 100 years. As the moon does the tango with earth, at times drawing close at times pulling apart, I reflect on how my life too has been a series of such dances where I have been close to some people on a daily basis and then moved away forming new circles of friendship.

The comfort and contentment that we take for granted from a happy family environment are poignantly missed by me in Dhaka. May, is also the birth month of my father and Vesak for me is intricately woven in with memories of him. One priest he had great respect was the scholar priest Rev. Thilaka fro the Katudampe temple. A serene temple set near the banks of a river, I too have good memories of the temple that does a great service to the village community. Paintings probably by late 19th century artists are not famous but is an important visual story telling for villages.

Part of the ceiling frescoes at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. August 31, 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva.

Part of the ceiling frescoes at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. August 31, 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva.

Often emotional transactions are much more complicated than financial ones but there is one factor that is common to both  We need to speculate to gain.  Thankfully, unlike your purse the heart has the capacity to replenish itself.

Yesterday, my bearded boss Shahidul Alam, writing from Berlin had introduced me virtually to a photojournalist and film maker Zin Myoe Sett  in Myanmar (Burma). My first contact in Myanmar!  Responding to Zin’s mail and thinking that he might be a Buddhist and thoughts of Vesak foremost in my mind, I had ended my email to him wishing him for Vesak and said “Buddhu Saranai” (May Buddha protect you) in closing.  Zin replied saying we add “Metta” (loving kindness) to it.  So this blog where I muse about teachings and recollect past events with a varied collection of photos and my ramblings is for my new friend Zin with Metta. And to all of you who have followed my blog and encouraged me to write more. …

A temple close to my village Hikkaduwa is the Sailabimbaramaya Temple in Dodanduwa. It is well known for the  giant granite Buddha statue which had eyes set with blue sapphires.  But the gems that were there are no more.  They were stolen.  Obviously the Buddha’s benevolent smile or the teachings did not matter a tot to the robbers.

The temple itself got the name from the granite statue which was brought to Dodanduwa from India.  The story is that the incumbent monks had heard of the granite statues in a region in India called “Kaveripattam” and a Governor had intervened to send one to Sri Lanka by ship. Dodanduwa, then did a brisk trade in salted fish, earthenware and salt with Maldives and India. People of the area says the  statue was taken from the harbour at Dodanduwa to the temple up the river on a raft.

The first Buddhist School in Sri Lanka by the name ‘Jinalabdhi Vishodaka’ was started by in the premises of Sailabimbaramaya Temple by Venerable Dodanduwe Piyarathana Maha Nayaka Thera.

Interestingly, as I roam around these temples with my camera comes the realisation that  rejection of the not so perfect is universal. I found these rejected statues tucked away at the Kataluwa temple.

Damaged and discarded Buddha statues at Kataluwa temple. Kataluwa, Sri Lanka. September 10, 2011. Photo Chulie de Silva

The perfect is worshiped thus;

Ye cha Buddha atita cha-ye cha Buddha anagata,
Pachchuppnanna cha ye Buddha-aham vandani sabbada.”
The Buddhas of the ages past,
The Buddhas that are yet to come
The Buddhas of the present age,
Lowly , I, each day adore!

A modern Buddha Statue at the Katudampe Rajamaha Vihare. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A modern Buddha Statue at the Katudampe Rajamaha Vihare.
Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

To my life’s end the Buddha and his teaching will be my refuge. Sadly. as recent news reaching me from Sri Lanka shows that the difference between paying lip service to the teachings and practicing them is profound.

I have carried with me when I lived abroad a little book called the “The Mirror of Dhamma” by venerables Narada Maha Thera and Kassapa Maha Thera. I was introduced to this book by my sister-in-law Swineetha Fernando way back in 1965. I have in turn given copies to my sons and I hear my granddaughter Tara, can get her tongue around some of the Pali gathas with an interesting twist. I have thumbed this book many times and  today I leave a you a wish for Vesak from this book.

Visible, invisible too
Those dwelling near or far away.
The born, and those seeking birth
May every being live happily.”

See also

A Salutary Poem at Vesak from Rabindranath Tagore

World Press Photo12 at Drik, Bangladesh

Photo Samuel Aranda, Spain for New York Times

Drik where I work is a happening place.  As one of my young colleagues said we breath, dream and live on photographs.  Famous photographers, curators, videographers, budding artists, poets, authors wander in and out of the ever open doors of Drik. In the past year or so I have seen exhibitions that have ranged from miniatures painted on grains of rice to major work by celebrated artists and photographers. This April 26th Drik Gallery doors will open for the World Press Photo 12 exhibition.  Do join us for this rare visual treat.

Drik in cooperation with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dhaka, have pleasure in inviting you to the opening of the World Press Photo 12 exhibition at Drik Gallery, on Thursday, 26 April 2012, 5.30 pm.

Watch the inauguration ceremony live at www.drik.tv

The exhibition honours the prizewinners of World Press Photo’s 55th Photo Contest.

The exhibition will be on at Drik Gallery till 18 May 2012, everyday from 3-8 pm.

 Drik Gallery

House 58, Road 15A (New)

Dhanmondi, Dhaka-1209, Bangladesh

Tel: 880-2-9120125, 8112954, 8123412

Email: office@drik.net

Programme

5:30        Welcome Address by Shahidul Alam, Managing Director, Drik

5:40        Address by H.M. Ambassador Alphons Hennekens, Kingdom of the Netherlands

5:50        Address by Femke van der Valk, Coordinator Exhibitions, World Press Photo

6:00        Address by Nurul Kabir, Editor, New Age, Guest of Honour

6:10        Vote of Thanks by Abir Abdullah, The Jury Member, World Press Photo 2011

About World Press Photo

World Press Photo is an independent, nonprofit organisation based in Amsterdam, committed to supporting and advancing high standards in photojournalism and documentary photography worldwide.

Each year, an independent international jury, consisting of nineteen members, judges the entries in nine different categories, submitted by photojournalists, agencies, newspapers and magazines from all corners of the world. This year’s competition attracted 5,247 photographers from 124 countries. In total 101,254 images were entered in the contest.

The annual exhibition is shown this year at about 100 venues all over the world. This year’s exhibition contains over 160 photographs. It is an annual public showcase for photojournalism comprising the year’s winning photo, together with award-winning images from each of the nine contest categories.

About Drik

Opening Ceremony of Chobi Mela VI International Festival of Photography, Dhaka Bangladesh. 21 January, 2011. Photo Saikat Mojumder

Drik, Bangladesh is a distinctive multimedia organisation that has made challenging social inequality its central driving force.  Established in 1989, Drik has successfully partnered with national and international organisations using the power of the visual medium to educate, inform and draw powerful emotional responses to influence public opinion. The Drik Picture Library, the Photography, Publications, Audio-Visual and Gallery departments work in synergy to carry out the work of the company.  It’s ability and influence is strengthened by its initiatives, the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, DrikICT, Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography and the Majority World Photo Agency.

About Drik Gallery

Drik Gallery, Drik, Bangladesh. 2 March, 2011. Photo Mahbub Alam Khan

Drik Gallery holding David Burnett's 44 Days -Iran and the Remaking of the World Exhibition, January, 2011. Photo Mahbub Alam Khan

Drik Gallery was opened in August 1993 with the first showing of World Press Photo in Bangladesh, there is a story behind the scenes. Bangladesh was in the midst of a massive democratic movement in the late eighties. On the streets, through curfews and through tear gas, Drik was documenting events in their entirety. Throughout this period, the major galleries, either state owned or belonging to foreign embassies, were not prepared to exhibit Drik’s work, since it was ‘political’. Drik knew it had to build its own gallery. The first ever staging of World Press provided the perfect opportunity. Drik gathered our resources and built what is now, one of the finest galleries in South Asia and the largest private gallery in Bangladesh.

Remembering Lisa with love

Portrait of

Rezwana Chowdhury Monalisa

Photograph by Saikat Mojumder

 

When my days are done, my leave-taking hushed in a final silence, my voice will linger in the autumn light and rain laden-clouds with the message that we had met.” — Rabindranath Tagore.

Lisa my dear colleague at Drik passed away in Dhaka on 30 March 2012 after a bravely fought battle with cancer.

Lisa was the first one to come running out of Drik to greet me when I first arrived in 2010 September.  The first to come to see me when I fell sick soon after arriving in Dhaka.  First to take me shopping and the first to buy me a gift of my first Dhaka saree. First to teach me the Bangla phrase “Chole Jabo Sri Lanka” meaning I am going back to Sri Lanka — my oft repeated Bangla phrase. Her caring love and laughter was the balm to my homesickness. But I never thought that the first funeral I would attend in Dhaka would be hers.

Fragments of the old Johnny Mathias song haunt me  “…. You try to hide the tears inside with a cheerful pose. But in the hush of night exactly like a bittersweet refrain Comes that certain smile to haunt your heart again.”

Painting my imagination with William Radice

William Radice with Bengali original read with musical accompaniment by Sydur Rahman Lipon, Shormymala and Delwar Hossain Dilu. Photograph©British Council/Tanzim Ahmed Bijoy, 23 February, 2012.

I had not heard before of the brutal slaying of Meghnad in Lanka, nor of Michael Madhusudan Dutta.  A political killing of an unarmed man, scheming, treachery, all the ingredients that we are familiar with unfolded – albeit with a difference.  No, not on TV but on a stage – the powerful emotional rendering in English , the sound of drums, and soft Bengali music — a picture kept painting itself on the canvas of my imagination. Gods fought battles, killed each other, not under international conventions and my sadness was not for the epic heroes but at my own ignorance.  Where was I? At the bilingual, dramatized reading of Book VI of Meghnadbadh kabya  by Michael Madhusudan Dutta translated by William Radice at the British Council in Dhaka. The expressive rendering in English by Radice was interspersed with extracts from the Bengali original, read with musical accompaniment by Sydur Rahman Lipon, Shormymala and Delwar Hossain Dilu.

The epic Kabya (Kavya for us in Lanka) was what is termed Madhusudan’s subversive interpretation of the Ramayana story, with Meghnad, son of Ravana portrayed as a tragic hero.  Here Meghnad (a.k.a as Indrajit) is shown to be a patriot, a loving husband, a caring son and a friend to his countrymen. Unlike the original verse by Valmiki.  Here Ravana is also portrayed as a respectable man and a responsible king full of all royal qualities. According to some theories, Ravana was a historical emperor who reigned over Lanka from 2554 BC to 2517 BC. The negative depiction of Ravana in Ramayana has been open to other interpretaions like Dutta’s.  Ravana as myths and legends go was a scholar and possessed the nectar of immortality stored under his navel thanks to a celestial boon by Brahma.

Rama and Lakshmana Bound by Indrajit's Serpent Arrows. Reproduced from Wikimedia commons. Artist unknown.

Ravana’s son by his wife Mandodari was named “Meghnad (Meghanada)” because his birth cry sounded like thunder. In the battles that Gods often indulged in Meghnad had defeated Indra, the king of the Devas, after which he came to be known as ‘Indrajit’ (“the conqueror of Indra”)

Lakshmana fights Indrajith. Reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.

I had long been an admirer of William Radice, the translator of many of my favourite Tagore poems like  Unending love. Radice is a linguist, writer, and a poet, who by his expert translations have given many of us who cannot read Bangla, the pleasure of enjoying great literary works.

Tagore and his works are/ were familiar in Lanka. My father referred to Bangladesh as Tagore country and wanted a complete works of Tagore when I first visited Dhaka in 2001.

The bilingual performance was 
a new version of a presentation for me. Devised and directed by Mukul Ahmed, a London based theatre director, even me with my “ektu, ektu Bangla”   I was moved by the emotional renderings.  Listening later to Radice conversing in Bangla I made a mental note to speed up my Bangla learning.

In a brief conversation with Radice after the performance, his eyes lit up when I said I was from Lanka and my second name was Lakshmi.  Dutta, he said was very fond of Lanka. If I understood properly, in the recitation, Lakshmi comes up as a guardian god of Lanka.  Maybe the early Lakshmi coins of Lanka is a reference to this?

Ignorance is not bliss. I was saddened that our education in Sri Lanka had not even briefly touched or introduced us to the great classics of our South Asian neigbhour.

The Year of Laxmi and Drik

For weeks this blog of mine, which has a mind of its own had been nagging me to write a piece and take stock of 2011.  The question is how do you crunch a year full of events, a stock of photo memories  into a single blog but let’s try. …

Boys will be boys. A son of a doctor plays with his domestic on the rooftop adjacent to my apartment block as a monsoon storm clouds gather. Lalmatia, Dhaka, Bangladesh. June 2011. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

To be exact, the story of course commenced a tad before the start of 2011, when I turned away from a comfortable life and settled myself in Dhaka to work for Drik and for what I called my “rickshaw” life. I had termed 2011, as embracing the unusual, the innovative – even the disruptive.

A labourer on May Day. Dhaka, 1 May 2011. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

2011 will be remembered by me and notched as the year of Laxmi – not only because I had the good fortune to see the advent of a granddaughter named Laxmi Elin but because its been a year full of riches – no, not the monetary kind of wealth and prosperity that Goddess Laxmi is supposed to endow one with – but the more precious riches of family reunions, seeing Tara grow up,  strengthened friendships – both the old ones as well as the freshness of new friendships that working for Drik has brought me.

My friend and colleague Adnan Wahid dancing at the opening rally of the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography , Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 2011. Photograph©K M Asad

So at the end of this year it’s cheers to Ranil and Aileen for the gift of Laxmi Elin and the thoughtful way of naming her bringing both maternal and paternal grandma’s into the picture.

It is also cheers to Shahidul and my new found friends at Drik and Pathshala for making this year an eventful one. They’ve tolerated my incessant cry of “Chole jabbo Sri Lanka” (am going back to Sri Lanka), nursed me though the drama of losing my brand new laptop, got me the much needed work visa and made room for me introducing me to their rich world of photography.

There was no better way to start the year than to dunk myself into the world of images.  There was plenty — more than 400 at the Chobi Mela international festival of photography VI (CM VI) organized by Drik –  29 print exhibitions, 31 digital presentations, evening dialogues and discussions and artists from 30 countries.

From the Chobi Mela Exhibition "My City of Unheard Prayers" by another new friend Sayed Asif Mahmud ( Bangladesh).

I had been working from September 2010 with  Reza and Mosafa at the Chobi Mela Secretariat. As the festival day approached it was all hands on deck, and many joined creating and contributing to an amazing spectacular unbelievable gala event that lasted for two weeks. I marveled silently how this comparatively small org could pull off such an international event. See video by Jeremiah Foo.

‘The success of this festival is because of you. The practitioners who have walked the walk, and the audience who have nurtured and supported this crazy dream. It is a dream we will dream together, and triumph we shall” Shahidul Alam. Photograph©D M Shibly

For me 2011 was a year of learning – no, not that much about photography but about myself and coping with the disruptive.  Often I was intimidated to take my camera out amid the abundant wealth of talent. Few instances I did it was mostly street photography.

In Dhaka much happens on the streets. I had thought the rally at Chobi Mela was unique but I soon learned that Bangladeshis didn’t need much persuasion to air their problems on the streets. Hartals still happen here frequently and bring the country to a virtual halt. May day outing was one, where people poured out on to the streets all dressed in red – producing armbands and headbands must be a lucrative business.

May day activists -- the young and the old have time to stop and smile for me. Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 1, 2011. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Life and energy naturally overflow onto the streets in a city that is bursting at the seams.  The traffic is notorious.

A girl tries to sell roses to me while I sit caged inside a three wheeler (CNG) in clogged traffic. Dhaka Bangladesh, 2011. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Amid the incessant horning, the rickshaw wallas swear and argue as they weave in an out, narrowly missing a car, a bus and even the baton weaving traffic police.  I’ve long since learned to balance myself on the ridiculously narrow sloping seat, stopped praying and trust I’ll reach my destination limbs intact. The guard at the apartment block shows off his few English phrases and it is no matter for him that the rickshaw walla will not understand English, he happily hailed a rickshaw for me this morning calling out “Come, come quickly.” Many a morning I have a familiar rickshaw walla waiting outside my apartment building.  He too ignores my Bangla and greets me with a quirky smile and says “Good Morning” in English.

The tea kiosks and the surrounding pavements are the common man’s smoking club.  Office workers regularly gather outside for “char kabo,” a gossip and a moan with the popular smoke.  Streets are the home for many, the poor children’s playground, their work place where they try to eke a living. On my way to classes at Pathshala one morning in April it was fun to see the streets kids, playful without a care in the world, strip naked, climb a tree and jump into the green murky waters of a Dhaka lake making it their own swimming pool.

Morning swim in a Dhaka lake. Bangladesh. April 2011. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

In a year full of happenings at Drik, I had met several charming, very talented photographers.  The most recent meeting with David Burnett the iconic photographer in Dhaka is still the defining event of 2011.

Drik Gallery II held David Burnett’s exhibition “44 Days – Iran and the Remaking of the World" at Chobi Mela VI. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

I had seen this exhibition and also read and heard before about his work, but to listen to David himself was a totally different experience.  Dressed in a faded blue T-shirt, early in December this year, he held the audience spell bounded bringing the events around images come alive – from his photos in Vietnam, to what he thought was a botched up photo of president John F. Kennedy taken as a young rookie photographer. We travelled with him to Iran to catch Ayatollah Khoumeni drinking tea; to other Presidents in jet planes during election campaigns and heard how he captured the anguish on the face of Mary Decker at the 1984 L.A. Olympics and to describe many more defining moment images. He had spoken about his work photographing the refugees as they streamed into India during the 1971 war at the launching of the book and video of the “Birth pangs of a nation.” As a result of seeing so many children sick and dying among the refugees, David said he himself became a more sensitive father, in a way that his wife and daughter couldn’t understand.

But the best memories I have is how comfortable and at ease he was among the people on the streets celebrating Bangladesh’s national day on the 16 Dec.  “ Can I say Jai Bangla now?” he asked seated on a wall smoking a cigar with Bangladeshis .

David Burnett has a smoke in Dhaka. Bangladesh 16 December, 2011. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Out on the streets people recognized him as the VIP and wanted to be photographed with him or photograph him. Often it was even difficult to get close enough to focus.  I clicked away as I saw him borrowing a lighter from an astounded rickshaw walla.  He not only lit his long cigar but also quite naturally leaned forward and lit the cigarette of the rickshaw walla quite oblivious to the amusement of the others watching him.

David Burnett lights a cigarette for a rickshaw driver. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 16 Dec. 2011. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

So what will 2012 bring – will I still be riding rickshaws? Sit in the same office and dream of my avocado tree and squirrels in the garden? Still wrestle with the same problems?  Be up against the same challenges?  Hard to say but I’ll certainly be wishing for Goddess Laxmi to be around with all her special charms and superior spiritual feminine energy.   And I need to see the baby Laxmi that has entered our family.

Happy New Year — Live your dream, love what you do.