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.