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<%-- Page Title--%> Endeavour <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 122 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 12 , 2003

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Cochuripatar Banchi

Birds and the Bird Catchers

Mustafa Zaman

 

Shailen Mondal's passion is catching birds. He hails from the village Chitolmary of Bugerhat district. Molla Sagar, a freelance photographer and a filmmaker, stumbled into him by chance. The fact that most of the villagers catch birds either to make a living or as past time, dawned on Sagar when he went to Chitolmary to get footage of the scenic beauty. As the man behind the camera was also someone who had the knack for documenting real-life phenomena, he decided upon recording the villagers who thrive on bird catching in the beel (the marsh area) of Chitolmari.

Sagar, who did not even know what he would do with the footage, found a guide in Shailen Mondal and was ready to follow the man, the shikari, in his footstep. The documentary that Sagar later developed uses footage taken both on the first occasion and from a second visit one year later. The first time Sagar went to Chitolmary was in 2001. And having decided to develop a documentary, Sagar went back for more footage.

Sagar recalls how he met Mondal during his first visit: I met several bird catchers while I was on my way to the marsh where the net is being set to catch them.
In fact Sagar was intrigued by the way they cought birds. The leaf-flute and the mimicking of the mating call and the net, these are the things that lit up Sagar's imagination. He then decided to see it all for himself and keep a record.

Bird catching is a nocturnal activity. The net spreads over an open area, and the bird catcher with his flute and the ability to mock the mating call of the birds ducks nearby. A hyacinth leaf is rolled into a flute to mimic the twittering of the birds. Molla Sagar spent two nights with Mondal, one of the reputed bird catchers of the village, on the first occasion.

A year later, when Sagar went back to the same village, he found an altered scenario. Mondal gave up his passion, many other villagers were on the verge of switching to other vocations. Mondal's family used to relish bird meat. Within one year, an incident in Mondal's life has changed all that. One day after setting the trap meaning propping up the uro jaal (fly net) he had spent the whole night mimicking the mating call, for which he had built an enviable reputation. Mondal thought he could not attract any birds that night, but, in the morning he realised that two birds got entangled in the net. When he discovered the birds, they were already dead. Two dead birds had affected a change of heart in Mondal, he gave up bird catching for good.

Molla Sagar's film brings into view both the aspects in the life of Mondal's: the bird catcher and the one who pledges never to eat bird meat again.

Many villagers of Chitolmary realised the fact that they should stop butchering birds. In Mondal's case, it was self-realisation that made him aware of it, and for other villagers it was just the need for a proper vocation. The film, by charting one man's journey from a bird catcher to abstinence, gives an emotional twist to the whole idea of people's realisation of living in harmony with nature and its treasures.

Sagar, as a freelance filmmaker, has been trying to delve into subjects that have an immediate relevance in our society. As he has the habit of transporting personal experiences into his projects, the film strives to strike a sympathetic chord with the people of a particular locality who had long been living of birds. The title of this 30-munite-long film is Oh Pakhi (Oh Bird). It derives from the name that its maker gave to a little chick that he found and tried to save during his stay in Chitolmary.
Three screenings of Oh Pakhi were held on September 7 in German Cultural Centre, Dhaka.