The night before Eid-ul-Azha in Bangladesh

A bull tethered outside my apartment block awaits sacrificial slaughter at Eid. Lalmatia, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 6 Nov. 2011 Copyright Chulie de Silva

Oh! Look see how cute that goat is” said my friend as we bounced over dodgy roads in a rickshaw.  Yes, the goat was unusual black with speckled ears.   He and another goat were being led to their sacrificial alter.

Tonight I hear the plaintive bleating of a goat not too far away, piercing the stillness of the night. The bulls that cried out last night are quiet now.  I dread tomorrow morning when much as I try to shut it out, I will hear the thump on the wooden blocks as sacrifices are made. The look of pain and anguish in the eyes of the animals on death row will haunt me for a long time.

“Sabbe sankhara dukkhati – Yada pannaya passati

Atha nibbindati dukhe – Esa maggo visuddhiya.”

“All conditioned things are painful – when with wisdom this one realizes, then is one repelled by this misery; this is the path to purity.”  — The mirror of Dhamma by the venarables Narada Maha Thera and Kassapa Thera;  re-edited 1975 by The venerable Kassapa Thera.

See also:  Sacrificial appeasement of gods

Unending Love/Tagore

“The story is about forgotten events and feelings unearthed from memory. …” from the photo exhibition “Dhaka: My Dreams, My Reality,”/Chobi Mela VI, 2011, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Reproduced here with kind permission. Photograph ©Debashish Shom.

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…

In life after life, in age after age, forever.

My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,

That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,

In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age old pain,

It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.

As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,

Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time.

You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.

At the heart of time, love of one for another.

We have played along side millions of lovers,

Shared in the same shy sweetness of meeting,

the distressful tears of farewell,

Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you

The love of all man’s days both past and forever:

Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.

The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –

And the songs of every poet past and forever.

~Rabindranath Tagore

From Selected Poems, Translated by William Radice

Deity of the ruined temple!

Abandoned Hindu temple on the road to Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Deity of the ruined temple! The broken strings of

Vina sing no more your praise. The bells in the

evening proclaim not your time of worship.  The air

is still and silent about you.

In your desolate dwelling comes the vagrant spring

breeze.  It brings the tidings of flowers-the flowers

that for your worship are offered no more.

Your worshipper of old wanders ever longing for favour

still refused. In the eventide, when the fires and

shadows mingle with the gloom of dust, he wearily

comes back to the ruined temple with hunger in

his heart.

Many a festival day comes to you in silence, deity of

ruined temple.  Many a night of worship goes

away with lamp unlit.

Many new images are built by masters of cunning art

and carried to the holy stream of oblivion when

their time is come.

Only the deity of the ruined temple remains

unworshipped in deathless neglect.

— Rabindranath Tagore

May Day in Dhaka

Bangladesh garment workers call for their rights on May Day 2011, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph copyright Chulie De Silva

I finally moved out of my comfort zone and ventured out among the waves of striding crowds at Purano Paltan and Muktangon in Dhaka. It was hot and dusty, but the atmosphere was amazing.  They came in waves — decked in red sarees, salwars, kurtas. sarongs, jeans, bright red T-shirts, red bandanas on their heads,  carrying red flags and banners.

Government and Opposition parties took to the streets with huge banners. Photograph copyright Chulie de Silva

And the bands played on at May Day, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph Copyright Chulie de Silva

Dhaka’s own paprara bands, floats, loud speakers on rickshaws, provided the background music while the ubiquitous street sellers did quick business, selling cool water, tea and coffee from side stalls, raw mangoes (I think with a salty pickle like sauce), cut pineapple and even whole cucumbers to munch as you marched stridently.

Cool cucumbers for hot workers, Dhaka, Bangaldesh. Photograph copyright Chulie De Silva

Many Bangladesh workers out in full force on rallies in Dhaka today might not know that roots of May Day was in Chicago or about the uprising and the prolonged fight for an 8 hour day. Most probably work on average much longer than an 8 hr day in poorly paid jobs. But the spirit that launched the worldwide International Solidarity Day for the workers was very much alive and kicking here.

Full of vigour he pranced around like a red imp. The future is theirs and I do hope it will be a better one for him and many others. Photograph copyright Chulie de Silva.

From a Bangla Shuvo Noboborsho to a Sinhala Shuba Navavarsha

There are no auspicious tmes in Dhaka. Here life does not revolve around the good and bad times as predicted by the horoscope men as ours do in Sri Lanka. Their New  Year  logically begins at first  light  when tens of thousands gather before dawn to greet the New Year with songs and parades. The song is Rabindranath Tagore’s famous song, Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho (Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come). Poila Boishak (also spelt as Pahela Baishakh in some newspapers), I am told is the first day of the first month of the year. I had heard of the huge crowds at Ramna Park and chickened out.  If you wondered how huge is huge take a look at these photos by my friend Mahbub Alam Khan.

People from all walks of life celebrate as the first rays of the sun heralds the Bangla New Year 1418. The "Mongol shobhajatra" the traditional colourful procession commenced from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Dhaka University April 14, 2011 (DrikNEWS). Photograph copyright Mahbub Alam Khan

“The world has kissed my soul with its pain, asking for its return in songs” –Rabindranath Tagore.

   Photograph copyright Mahbub Alam Khan

From the Wikipedia I learn that:

Celebrations of Pohela Boishakh started from Akbar’s reign. It was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of Choitro. On the next day, or the first day of the new year, landlords would entertain their tenants with sweets. On this occasion there used to be fairs and other festivities. In due course the occasion became part of domestic and social life, and turned into a day of merriment. The main event of the day was to open a halkhata or new book of accounts.

 The historical importance of Pohela Boishakh in the Bangladeshi context may be dated from the observance of the day by Chhayanat 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 and an integral part of the people’s cultural heritage. Later, in the mid- 1980s the Institute of Fine Arts added colour to the day by initiating the Boishakhi parade, which is much like a carnival parade.
 Photograph copyright Mahubub Alam Khan”]

Both Bengali New Year Nôbobôrsho, and Sinhala new year “Suba Navavarsha”  comes from Sanskrit Nava(new)varṣa(year

So take the Bengali Shuvo Noboborsho  Replace  Bangla  v = b  for Sinhala

 Bangla b = v for Sinhala

Bangla O= a  for Sinhala

 And you have Shuba Navavarsha

and this is the New Year table of goodies when some Sri Lankans in Dhaka were treated by a very competent lady  and her husband (they prefers to stay anonymous) but it was certainly a very good auspicious start to the year.

The cake is a new western influenced addition no doubt but below it clockwise is the traditional milk rice and bananas,  followed by traditional sweets made from rice flour —  aluwa, kavum, halape and kaludodol (flour and treacle gooey sweet that needs labouring for hours over a hot stove) ; thalaguli (made with sesame seeds and juggery) and milk toffee (fudge with cashew nuts) ; Athiraha ( a sweet made with mung flour and treacle) and kokis (not where’s the kiss but lightly batter  fried crunchy cookies) and vadai.  Photograph copyright Chulie de Silva.

Colours of Dhaka

Colours of Dhaka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

  It’s back to school in the new year and photography assignment time.  I might be an ageing student but somethings never change – like  in the “good old days” I am desperate starting the assignment only the day before.  The voice inside me is nagging – “You have not taken any photos for your assignment.”   It didn’t help that there was no sun in the morning – it remained gloomy with a biting cold wind.  But the luck changed somewhere in the evening when a watery sun appeared and I rushed out at tea break hoping  to catch the evening light.

The assignment is on colour, shape, lines,low and hi  depth of field, blurring of images all the basics about composing a photo. 

The curry leaf plant that was a gift by my colleague Momina catches my eye.  OK, that looks fine — at least one in the bag so to speak. …

Karapincha (curry) leaves from a plant that a friend gave me. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Outside near the billboard  two young photographers Sayed Asif Mahmud and Wahid Adnan are having a smoke. Here all the young smoke — so sad.  Asif once pulled rank jokingly and says he is my senior at Pathshala photogrpahy course. At my age its good to find a senior in school.  Adnan on the other hand has adopted me as his Granny! So now I have a 2 year old granddaughter going on 3 and a 30 year old grandson going… gosh! I wonder where?  But he says “Granny matters” and  it was time to pose for Granny.

Granny Matters. Helpful comrades Sayed Asif Mahmud and Wahid Adnan. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Then a quick fix on lines.

Lines of steel near a highrise apartment building coming up on the road where I live. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

 Asif says as a beginner I should keep my images sharp and its only as you get older that photographers start blurring images.

This one taken at the only Bangla wedding I’ve attended was a tray of betel leaves at the entrance.


Attractive offering of betel leaves at a Bangladeshi wedding. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

And then a creative dinner sometime ago got me more shapes and colours.

Prawn Portrait. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

 How can one do composition assignment  in Dhaka without the ubiquitous rickshaw walla?

Dhaka rickshaw walla. The city is supposed to have over a million rickshaws. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

And how not to include a portrait…

Portrait of Mariam. Lalmatia, Dhaka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

‘We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.’ — Kahlil Gibran

Street Clicks on a Misty Morning

When we left Dhaka at 5 am the city was fast asleep like a child that had collapsed exhausted after a restive day.  Gone was the hyperactivity the tooting of horns, the traffic cops, the cycle bells of the  million rickshaws, so synonymous with Dhaka.  The sleeping incorrigible child lay swathed in an inky mist.  Not much different from the Pettah or Fort in Sri Lanka before dawn.


Reflections on a misty morning. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


As we moved out of Dhaka over the Buriganga bridge, the city was slowly coming back to life.  The wayside stalls were lighting their hearths and rolling out the paratha dough and the vegetable sellers were struggling with bags piled high on their bicycle carts. We were stopped at the bridge.  My first thought was that it was a security check.  This wasn’t, it was to pay a toll.  

Buri in Bangla means old and Ganga is river and I wondered if it was an old man river or an old woman river as my mind wandered to Paul Robeson and the famous Ol’ Man River— the song of the African Americans toiling away amidst the uncaring flow of the Mississippi river. Many a song has been sung by boatmen toiling away here too.  Rivers have flown entwined in the lives of the Bangladeshies – at times the giver, at times the destroyer – but that’s another story.

We drive along a newly resurfaced, neatly marked road, and the view changes.  Flickering lights glow in the dark on the right side of the road but there are no visible houses and I cannot figure out the lights.  “Those are brick kilns,” explain my friends.

The little village we turn into is fast asleep too.  Sitting on the verandah of our hosts house the conversation turns to when the first Black and White TV was installed in this house.  Villagers had flocked from miles to see this new fangled box with moving pictures. 

Just before sunrise we walk across the courtyard of fruit trees. The starfruit tree had unpicked fruits on the ground.  “Those are for the parrots,”explains our host.  As the mist starts to lift slowly, we walk across the field.


The sun rises across the fields. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


The sun when it makes an appearance is majestic — a fiery ball across the fields.  I remember a similar sunrise I saw on the A 9 driving towards Killinochchi earlier this year, but one never tires of these magnificent displays of nature.

A little boy, starts following me –obviously drawn to the camera. A little sign language and he is very happy to be photographed.


Portrait of Robi. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


On the small lane in front of our hosts house, people stop – a little curious, looking at me and the  camera.  First they speak to me in Bangla, as yet again I’m mistaken for a Bangladeshi.  “Here’s a stange one, she looks Bangla but can speak only ektu, ektu ( a little).” 


Portrait of Rizia. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


 I ask whether I could photograph a woman first in my broken Bangla – Ji, ji ( yes) and after her the men too lined up in front.  


Portrait of Md. Shah Alam. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Then it was time to check out the photo and assess it on the view finder.  The photos  might not please my tutors but I had loud approvals of “baloh, baloh”–  good in Bangla.  I try to remember my photography lessons, side lights, framing properly but then decided the decisive moment was what I wanted to capture – photographing to remember the smiles and laughter of a friendly encounter with a bunch of happy villagers.


Rolu with his speckled pet. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Robin is setting up a net to play badminton with his friends.  Looking down at them from the road higher up,  I focus my camera on them. They quickly gather and hold a pose for me. Peering into my lens, I remember how similar this is to the boys I photographed in Jaffna.  In a jiffy the boys  are all up on the road with us, wanting to be photographed more -the pair of sunglasses a must for the Bollywood look. …


Emon and Robi. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


The men and women hang around, having forgotten where they were going when they met me and we have a conversation liberally sprinkled with sign language.  I tell them I am from Sri Lanka and Shah Alam says knowingly “Ah, Sri Lanka, Baloh, baloh” and nods his head.   Language they say shape our thoughts and interaction – so do we communicate even in monosyllables because Bangla and Sinhala have so many common root words?  Anyway, it is an amazing feeling of being welcomed and accepted in a strange village.  The camera no doubt was the catalyst, the ice breaker,  but  with my few words of Bangla and their quick grasp of what I was saying  we were communicating.  A much warmer engagement than the empty rhetoric of so many of our daily “Hello, How are you?” greetings.

Alam gestures with his hand up towards the sky and asks whether I will go back to Sri Lanka after this visit or will I come again to see them. I wish I could have said in Bangla “I’ll come back.”


Lingering memories. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


 See also:  

By Lera Boroditsky

Sacrificial Appeasement of Gods

Down below my apartment block, I hear the continuous bleating of two goats as if they knew what is in store for them when dawn comes today.  Going down, I see  the two goats and next to them two beautiful white bulls with such sadness in their eyes  — a sort of animal ESP that has forewarned them of their doom.      


Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practiced by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. It also served a social or economic function in those cultures where the edible portions of the animal were distributed among those attending the sacrifice for consumption. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

Prices have gone up for bulls and cows. Prices can be anything upwards from 30,000 Takas with price specimens fetching as high as 900,000 Takas. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

 Dhaka  will celebrate Eid al-Adha today the 17 November.   Today  Muslims will commemorate and remember Abraham’s trials, by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a cow, bull, sheep, camel, or a goat.

The archaeological record contains human and animal corpses with sacrificial marks long before any written records of the practice. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

AAlthough I had lived in two strong Muslim countries –Malaysia and Brunei, the sacrificial slaughtering of animals at this festival was not visible to us outside the faith.  In Dhaka at many street corners and in front of houses cows, bulls, and goats tied are tied and sometimes petted fondly and fed.  

A common street scene: bulls tethered on the side of the road. Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

The earliest evidence for human sacrifice in the Indian subcontinent dates back to the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization. An Indus seal from Harappa depicts an upside-down nude female figure with legs outspread and a plant issuing from the womb. The reverse side of the seal depicts a man holding a sickle and a woman seated on the ground in a posture of prayer. Many scholars interpret this scene as a human sacrifice in honour of the Mother-Goddess.

Even in the Aztec culture human sacrifices were ritualistic and symbolic acts accompanying huge feasts and festivals.  Victims were sacrificed and died usually centre stage  while dancers performed and music played on.  There were elaborate costumes and decoration, carpets of  flowers and an audience of  many elite as well as ordinary people. 

The Aztecs also refered to human sacrifice as neteotoquiliztli -, the desire to be regarded as a god.  For each festival at least one or more victims took on the paraphernalia, habits and attributes of the god or goddess whom they were dying as. Particularly the young man who was indoctrinated for a year to submit himself to Tezcatlipoca’s temple was the Aztec equivalent of a celebrity rock star, being greatly revered  and adorned to the point of people “kissing the ground” when he passed by.

The practice of Sati sacrificed by a widow at her husband’s funeral pyre and  continued  till India brought Sati Prevention Act  to suppress it. And at home the suicide cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was another form of modern day human sacrifice — a form of ritualistic offering to the Tiger God. Then detractors of the death penalty  may consider all forms of capital punishment as secularised variants of human sacrifice. 

Across may cultures human sacrifice accompanied the dedication of a new temple or bridge.  Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrificed were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life. Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.

When my brother Prasanna Kirtisinghe, died in the tsunamiof 2004 in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka he was the only one in the family and the first to succumb to the tsunami.  I can still hear my sister-in-law Padmini say “he gave himself up like a billa (sacrifice) to the gods, so we could all live.” 

See also>

Dhaka Diary: In search of one percent inspiration

Boys will be boys and find trees to climb even in the middle of the Dhaka city. Walking under the tree I only looked up and saw them when I heard their shouts. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Genius, they say, is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. The 99 per cent, one can easily supply. For most of us it’s our stock in trade. The one per cent is the bit that’s somewhat more elusive or difficult to come up with.   More so, if you’ve been working to build that pension fund and you’ve let your brain get oxidized with strategic planning, writing press releases, speeches for the boss etc, etc.  The bright shiny eyes which you saw the world as a child invariably gets dull with age.

I am a person who hated school.  My aunt’s three sewing girls in Panadura, Sri Lanka,  drew sticks in the morning to decide who would take me to school – nay practically carry me to school –a biting, crying animal to school. 

But in later adult life I’ve trudged back to school, still hating the four walled environment but loving the learning.  In Dhaka, learning the basics of photography at the Pathshala Media Academy is like taking a polishing cloth and abrasives to clean the oxidized brain. The one percent I may never find but so far the polishing has been fun.

Seeing the world with bright eyes. Two street boys munching fruits on a tree in ther middle of the city. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Pathshala is a Sanskrit word meaning  “place of learning,” and the Media Academy is modeled on how ancient teaching took place under spreading banyan trees where gurus with long flowing beards imparted wisdom and experiences in an open environment of learning.  Today, there are beards but not the gurus with flowing white beards.  Being a photography course outdoor classes are mandatory, but for our short course this was the first one.   Interestingly, the course coordinator and guru for the day Shah Sazzad was in a workshop I ran on caption writing at the Chobi Mela IV in 2006.  Today, tables are turned and am the pupil and he the guru.

Out near a small polluted lake our first assignment was to photograph a subject against a strong backlight but to try to catch the images in the water. Someone found a street waif Azad but he was a natural.

A little tired of the posing he ran and got himself an ice cream with the first baksheesh he got. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Portrait of Azad. Dhaka Bangladesh. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Azad posing for the photographers, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph©Chulie de Silva














 By this time the photography students were attracting many who were more than willing people to pose  for photographs. But Azad had the biggest following. 


A boy and his monkey Prince. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

 By this time the photography students were attracting many who were more than willing people to pose  for photographs. But Azad had the biggest following. 

The next assignment was to take portrait shots but the question was how to convince anyone to pose for a photograph with only a smattering of Bangla.  But as it turned out the couple of words and the body language did work.  Renu at first refused , but then she was soon enjoying being in front of the lens.

Portrait of Renu. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Out on the streets a promotion for a new TV station was taking shape.  There were horse-drawn carriages and a musical show with a live band.

Feeding time before the parade. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Taslima and Yasmin have front row standing space. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

But as I photographed the young mother and baby enjoying the show with front row standing seats, an official stepped up to ask her  to move thinking I didn’t want them in the photo.  I was shooing the officer away trying to tell him that I didn’t want them to move, and that I wanted them in the picture, when they turned to look at me and I got an unexpected shot of Taslima and daughter Yasmin.

Taslima and daughter Yasmin. Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Dhaka Diary: Living in the Urban Jungle and Writing with Light

“That was fun, wasn’t it” Photograph© Chulie de Silva

These were special children from a UNICEF-supported ‘Protection of Children at Risk’ (PCAR) project. The children from Dhaka and Barisal are now under the care of two NGOs – Aparajeyo-Bangladesh and Padakhep Manabik Unnayan Kendra.

Launch will come soon and we have to get onboard. If I am given something to carry, I will have enough to buy breakfast. Barisal Launch Terminal, Barisal, Bangladesh, 2010. Photo: Md. Mohasin Hossain, 12

They grew up in poverty-stricken destitute families where survival was an ordeal.  Every day was a challenge, another lurking threat, in a hostile environment where they were beaten and ill treated by step parents, aunts, uncles, and employers. Facing great adversity, they took stock of their suffering and thought that they could do better on their own living in the streets. They slept on piers, carried heavy luggage to collect some money for food.  “I slept, ate and lived in the streets,” says thirteen year old Md. Foysal.

The cameras and the photography training gave them an opportunity to explore their more sensitive side.  Tell their stories with their photos, under the expert guidance of two equally sensitive tutors, Habibul Haque and Tanzim Wahib of Drik. The children blossomed as they learned to write with light (‘photography’, etymology of, from photos  light, and graphos writing).  Their joy at holding a camera and learning to use it is palpable. They bravely opted to go back to the streets/slums where they lived and they wrote their stories looking for beauty and truth, Many focused poignantly on other children trapped in poverty as they were.

Seven-year old Ayesha has no idea whether she lives is a good or a bad environment. She is in a place where leather is tanned. Fish and chicken meal is a byproduct of this process but the tanning pollutes the environment. Hazaribag Tannery, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2010, Photo: Shahin Alam, 15

Translating into English with my colleagues at Drik their short narrative biographies, I could see that the sorrows in their short lives were plentiful. “Did we suffer because we were poor?” asks another thirteen year old Labony.


Kazi Labony. Photograph© Chulie de Silva


My mind races back to our magical childhood growing up by the sea at Hikkaduwa or with my grandparents and aunts and uncles in Panadura where love and care were bountiful.  My father was not rich by monetary terms but he was rich in loving. We were never slapped or caned and I specially rejoiced at his ruling on no Sunday school  — much to the dismay of the strongly Buddhist clan in Panadura – five days of school was enough and Saturday and Sunday were days for play. The only warning I used to get was that he would cut off my pony tail if I was naughty, and that was enough for me to toe the line.

That love and a happy childhood has sustained me through many difficult times in adult life and I wondered how these scars of childhood would affect the lives of these children.   I saw in their writings a deep sadness at the way life has treated them but also great fortitude and many wanted to put the bad times behind and move on. When troubles come they face it them with courage almost as if they out-stared it so that “Trouble” begins to regret that it ever bothered them and goes off to find itself a more acquiescent target. The children luckily found their way into the “Drop in Centres” run by the two NGOs.

Many of the labourers in our country do not stop their work when they get tired. They are allowed to relax only after finishing their work. I took this image of a tired worker taking a short break on the way back home from Sadarghat. Photo: Md. Foysal, 13

Yesterday evening at the launching of the “Living in the Urban Jungle” exhibition and the book launch at the Grand Ball Room of the posh Sonargaon Hotel, they  entered the world of the rich they had glimpsed from the other side of the street.  Yesterday, they were the shining stars, praised and honored.  They proudly pointed out their work and were disappointed when I couldn’t speak to them in Bangla.

I wish I could have told them of Sri Lanka’s National Child Protection Authority and how the lives of many have improved but that work is ongoing and for us too in Lanka there is much to do still to improve the lives of poor children. But instead I told them that their photos were infinitely better than any of mine. Labony’s face lit up and she said “Thank you” in English. Pretty as a picture, I wondered how anyone could beat her so much for her to run away and question why Allah sent her to this world.

Just now the world is theirs, the applause is theirs. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

“I want to be a photo journalist,” “I want to teach photography to other street children,” “ I want to have a beauty studio and a photography studio,” they said in a short video shown at the launching ceremony. Just now the world is theirs, the applause is theirs.  They were being interviewed, photographed. The cameras have opened the doors to a new world for them. They are like “Cinderellas” on a spree. Their appetite for photography whetted, they are rearing to do more photography.  They are all dressed up but the ball will end soon once the exhibitions (gallery and mobile in both Dhaka and Barisal) ends. Can the fairy godmothers still hover around them and smooth their path to more learning to prepare them to be the photojournalists they want to be ?  Will their wish come true that many others they know are in similar circumstances can also be helped?

“Please don’t despise the street children, given a chance they can do well” pleads Foysal. I for one will never be able to look at the street children of Bangladesh without their pain in my heart.

I sell newspapers here. These children and I play with this clay tiger and dream about the real ferocious ones and our future. Photo: Md. Roni, 14

See also: From the other side of the fence by Shahidul Alam who asks “Empowerment can only be explored where equality has previously been denied. How then does one approach exploitation? How does one undo wrongs when one is on the ‘wrong’ side of the fence?”