Photos In "Our" Language
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We remember the time we had to go to some UNICEF meeting or other with bhaiya (ShahidulAlam). It was in the Sonargaon Hotel. A huge, fancy affair, where we had trouble walking, where our feet kept slipping on the shiny lobby floor. A different world, the world of the rich. As if that wasn't enough, Pintu had lost one of his sandals on the way there. We knew we wouldn't be allowed inside in bare feet, but bhaiya told us that there was no need to worry, that everything would be fine. So we walked on that slippery floor and looked everywhere. Everything seemed so grand, everything smelled of money. People throw away so much money! In the middle of the hotel was a swimming pool with almost-naked foreigners in it. We felt too ashamed to look at them.

When you have too much money what else can you do except go to a swimming pool to show off, to say 'look at the money I have, I go swimming in a big hotel's pool'. The rich and their airs! Coming out with their cars just to show off to us, to the poor, to those of us who don't have cars. The way they look at us! And their talk: which is better, a white car or a black car? It's unbelievable, the arrogance!

When we go somewhere people usually comment 'oh you poor deprived children'. Nonsense! If they grab all the opportunities of course we'll be deprived. First they take everything for themselves, then they coo 'oh, you poor deprived child'. If we are not given a chance, how can we make it? Our speech, the way we talk is offensive to the bhadrolok, the upper class. 'Oooh, your pronunciation,' they sniff at us, 'the way your language wanders all over the place'.

We are poor. But the fact that we have cameras and know how to take photos makes people uncomfortable. And so something simple becomes complicated. People who see us keep asking "Accha, are these the cameras you use?" But, you see, the camera's not the point. The point is to take photographs. It doesn't sit well with a lot of folks that the children of the poor should have cameras. Makes you laugh. Once bhaiya took some of our shots to the Lab for printing. The people at the Lab thought that one of the photos was his. 'Take a look at Shahidul Alam's work,' they said. Well, it was actually taken by Iqbal, and when bhaiya told them so, they just shut up and wouldn't say anything more. So what are we to make of this? Everything's for the rich, their fancy ways! Hamida and Rabeya have been abroad. The word has spread. That's how they are introduced, as having gone abroad. We take photos. That is not our identity however. The point is who has been abroad.

Yet another way to show off is English. You aren't anybody if you don't know English. As if the real thing, the only thing, is not the work itself, but whether you know English. It's such a fashion to speak it. They say you have to know it, but what do the foreigners know? Shouldn't all those photographers and all the other visitors who come here know Bangia? Nobody tells them 'you should know Bangia'. We take photographs. Through our photographs we want to change things. But lately the going has been tough. With the children of the wealthy it is enough that they take photos, but with us it seems that we have to prove ourselves by learning English too. What will happen to those English-speaking friends who also carry on the struggle? Will they learn our language and join us? Oh come on! Will they not join ranks with us? What then is our language of photography to be?

 
( Cover ) : Yes, the image is of the Hill Tracts. Despite the bright light that glitters on their faces, their hearts remain darkamidst our "brave" soldiers. Rangamati, 2000.
Photo © Pintu Sikder/ Out of Focus
   
     
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