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Volume 6 | Issue 05 | May 2012 |


Original Forum

Media Governance in Bangladesh:
Rhetoric and Reality of Broadcasting Policy
-- S M Shameem Reza
Social Media:
The debate of freedom and responsibility
-- Fahmidul Haq
The Healthy Effect of New Media--Naimul Karim
Freedom on Screen:
The long route of short films

-- Zakir Hossain Raju
Come Freedom, Come Responsibility-- Interview with Professor Dr. Gitiara Nasreen
Television Journalism as a Field
--- AJM Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan

Rabindranath and the Translation of Gitanjali
--Rifat Munim


Photo Feature
Live True Life or Die Trying

International Crimes and the Tribunal in Bangladesh

-- Mubashar Hasan

Politics for Quality of Life: A new perspective for Bangladesh politics
-- Syed Fattahul Alim

Education for Regional
Connectivity in South Asia

--Shakil Ahmed
If you can't grab a bull by its horns,
grab its tail

--Nofel Wahid
The Fall of Dictators
-- Syed Badrul Ahsan


Forum Home

Live True Life Or Die Trying

A Photo Feature by Naeem Mohaiemen
Naeem Mohaiemen uses essays, photography and film to explore histories of failed utopias (naeem. mohaiemen@gmail.com).

Now, every time I photograph a protest rally, there are bits I'm leaving out. At the edge of the lens, beyond the flare zone. The other rule of thirds: representation, exaggeration, and omission. On this day in January, there are two parallel rallies in Dhaka. The one on campus organized by my friends and allies: the left student groups. The other rally is bigger and more intense. In this one, I find no familiar faces, except among the photographers. The appeal of this new confrontational politics is clear. these are not the Islamists we lampooned in the 1980s. Now their rhetoric has a sharp edge. Is the difference now only in icons?

I send the uncropped image to Annu. She replies, "Sometimes I feel you're just selling stereotypes." The prayer cap is the sum of fears. Somewhere, Fareed Zakaria is penning his next Newsweek cover: "Why they still hate us." I crop the head, now our memory is clean. Later, the designer writes to me, the proportions are wrong for their template. I go for a walk. When I come back, I mime resignation and send the original image.


The cap stays in the picture.
I have filmed these "Islamist" rallies so many times before. But always from distance: muffled, grainy, blurred. This time, I came close, and the crowds parted. "Let photographer bhai through." This felt like enthusiasm. Without the shutter click, the performance has no audience.



A BBC cameraman brusquely moved the mike away from a speaker's mouth to get a better shot. Not a murmur. My love, everything I do, I do for you.



On this day, I film the first rally while standing very still. A sharpened gaze, but no affection. The second rally gets my gentle, moving, soft focus caress. A lover tries again, flower in hand.


Still, my camera stays tight. If I go wide, the tableaux will fray. Just outside the edges are other people: walking, talking, ignoring the rally, deaf to chants. No time for earnest causes.

Friday is for prayer, Friday is for shopping.

1:40pm The agency photographers arrived long before me. The best shots are already in their can. How do they always know where to go? Meanwhile, always underprepared, I’m cursing myself for not bringing a spare battery. The sun is overhead. While I slowly play around with aperture, the moments pass me by. Blink and we are gone.

1:50pm Science fiction is not always future. It can be that which almost did happen, if not for our intervention. Someone has spread a rumor that Bangladesh will lead a UN peacekeeping mission in Iraq. The rally now has a focus, our army can’t be part of a “slave mission.” Whether it’s true or not is beside the point.
2:00pm A dreamy or layered day for some tailor somewhere. A rapper, on a tile mosaic, on star of David. The omnivore is always starving inside, and no one knows why. While editing these photos, I look up and a girl flirtatiously says, “I’m looking for a handsome boy to be with. But it seems every boy is prettier than me. That won’t work.” Candyshop
2:15pm A scuffle breaks out. One of the photographers is pushed. I get irritated, but I don’t quite understand why. I yell at someone, “Don’t push, without us you’re nothing.” He turns and stares me down, and then says, “I don’t know who sent you, but we’re not here for dirty politics.” I’m intimidated into silence. I want him to be a fake, but he’s not. Why not?
2:30pm A sort of senior police officer asks which newspaper I’m with. When I tell him, I am with no one, in fact I am no one, he relaxes. “Why are you here then?” he asks and smiles. Then, without waiting for my answer, he continues with his monologue, “Tell me what government wants us to do? Do they expect us to beat them?”
2:35pm A few months back, there was a hot discussion of Diploma’s milk ad. That strangely posed face, leading to protests and withdrawal. Now, as I select images, I rewind back to that moment. The other photo in this series (the one I won’t show you), has this same boy in full war cry– it’s a similar erotica moment for conflict journalism.
2:38pm I'm wondering who I betrayed to come to this moment. I'm out of my body again. A large flat book is tamping down the edges of a print. A few hours of this and it will be ready for the framer. The collector first pinned butterflies, and then people. The first time was practice. The second time was a creepy old cinema script.
2:40pm I definitely got here a little too late. The burning ritual is over, and I'm snapping residue from the fire. Nothing to see here, nothing significant now. Everyone is leaving. No small hidden acts. Nobody has rescued a book and hidden it under their coat. I feel oddly sure about this. No serenity, just sadness. Fahrenheit 451.
2:50pm They call me over, stand in a line, and ask me to shoot. The tallest boy writes his address on a piece of paper and hands it over. I have done this so many times, but I know I may never mail the pictures. There's a breakdown in my intention. I still owe a flag seller photos from last winter. I met him in December, on Independence Day.
4:30pm University campus. The second rally of the day. Now familiar faces, back in my zone. I want to tell them, that the Islamist rally was so much bigger. The mullahs have us on the run, neither history nor crowds are on our side. But there's no time for analysis, there never is. We start to march, and my hand shakes a little. Just at the beginning.
4:40pm While we shout into megaphones, the Djuice ad's rock boy sings into his mike, taunting us. A billboard designed by Bitopi, whose director always jokes with me "what pinko-commie event did you attend today?" He moved here from West Bengal. Like all former residents of communist states, he has a genetic coding to be critical about utopia. They become nightmares so easily.
4:55pm The chants get sharper with each repetition. My land, my mother. Won't let it be Somalia. My land, my mother. Won't let it be Iraq. My land, my mother. Won't let it be Liberia. Full throated cries. The list goes on and on, and then someone throws in Rwanda. Rwanda? It itches at me for the rest of the afternoon.
4:58pm Some people are falling behind. The procession is starting to sag. somebody asks me to hurry people up.
Oh, you're on the phone, got a clear line at last?
I'm doing this and I'm doing that and I'm trying to make some girl and she says come back next week can't you see we're on a losing streak.
5:10pm A few months later, former allies will clash. Chavez has spoken on Iran, the left is in continuous confusion. We shadow box each other on facebook pasting in yet another article, the tyranny of references. I Still, in the 1970s, these arguments would lead to factions, turf war, maybe murder. Now, it's only words.
5:20pm And now, something totally unexpected. What's whitey doing in my shot? The fourth wall is broken.
Later, I find out he is a visiting journalist. Of course he is. The European left's penchant for third world romanticism. You people, your history, your movements...
5:25pm These days, the Islamists seem to have the brightest graphic designers. An eagle grabbing the map, slow red bleeding across plains and rivers. The wings with Gandhi wheel on the left, Stars and Stripes on the right.
And here we have... a widowmaker effigy in boring, dour brown.
5:30pm The words on the effigy have not changed much in four decades. There are still warmongers, still imperialism. Someone miscalculated how flammable this hay was. The fire shoots up and out of control immediately. Organizers push everyone back. If that thing falls on someone, game over. But the photographers are a nuisance, creeping forward to fire a final round.
5:40pm The flames flicker and lick, things settle down. We remove barricades and let traffic back in. Shoppers look relieved, lovers made good use of the delay. Soon the roads are back to the usual chaos flux. No lives were saved today, but maybe a butterfly wing flapped. I want to go home and scan the photos. Freeze some tears. But first, we should get something to eat. I’m hungry, are you?


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