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


Shaken not Stirred

What on earth would I do with an expensive camera like  D200 howled my son Ranil.  Well, no logical reason at all, specially as my bank balance is never that good.  But, then I haven’t let logic dominate this last part of my life.  It has largely been the untravelled other road and as they say I’ve gained on the swings what I lost on the merry-go-round!  The highs were there from the first day onwards…

I’d played with the camera  at home but the first time I took it out so to speak was when I was on a field visit in a hill country town.  Nice crisp chill in the air, bright morning and I woke up all excited and strolled out nice and early as all good photographers do I am told.

Street sweepers were out on in the main town centre in their brightly coloured sarees.  People  were just gathering at the bus stops to go to work, to school or had brought bread, or was just having a smoke and reading the day’s headlines in a newspaper.  An everyday morning we see in every town in Sri Lanka, but oh ever so gentle  on the eyes.  Fresh faced children in crisp white uniforms, brothers holding younger siblings,  mothers dragging some reluctant ones to kindergarten and some kids sitting side saddle while a father’ peddled at a leisurely pace.  There was a huge sign that said in Sinhalese “No Violence.”

Two schoolgirls walk pass a board saying "No to Violence."

Two schoolgirls walk pass a board saying “No to Violence.” Photograph Chulie de Silva

A gaggle of  Muslim schoolgirls with a solitary brother  came into view and was just right for a piece on education I was thinking of writing.  I stopped them and asked if I could photograph them — they smiled shyly and nodded and I tentatively tried to take a few photos.

Schoolgirls and brother on the way to school. Photograph Chulie de Silva

Schoolgirls and brother on the way to school. Photograph Chulie de Silva


And then, whoosh a blue Police jeep pulls up, three guys jump out and I get to take a ride in the official buggy for the first time in my life to the cop shop.

I am told at the invitation of the big boss.  And  also for the first time too I get to taste what it was to be a photojournalist on the wrong side of the law.  Well, to cut a long story short, I didn’t get to spend a night in the royal boarding house as various friends and colleagues rushed to my rescue  – just in time too.

It was a citizen’s complaint I was told. … for photographing school children. The boss still in a track suit after an early morning jog, apologized and we shook hands.  I  left  shaken but not stirred and  non the worse for the experience.

Welcome to the club said a professional photojournalist friend. …