Greetings from Dhaka!!
I just arrived yesterday afternoon, and am busily settling into my new apartment in Baridhara, Dhaka, at the Independent University of Bangladesh.
It’s been a long journey to get here, one that actually began well over a week ago. While I was supposed to leave on September 16, stormy weather (tornadoes!) rolled into NY right around the time my Boston to Newark flight was scheduled to depart. In a fantastically dramatic turn of events, I found myself sitting on the runway for three hours, only to eventually hear the captain say that the 3.30 flight would be delayed until 7.20, putting me into Newark well after the 7.40 boarding time for the next leg to Delhi, and that anyone who wanted off needed to deplane in the next ten minutes. After a quick chat with the gate attendant (Do you think I’ll make my connection? No. Does it cost anything to switch flights? Nope!), I grabbed my two carry-ons and made my way up the narrow aisle and back through gate, where I found myself walking into the city that I wasn’t expecting to see for quite a while (at least for more than six hours after boarding!).
But no complaints here – I actually wanted a bit more time at home, and the delay allowed me to push back my departure by a week. And luckily, this time around, I didn’t – rather, couldn’t! – do any packing, as my bags made it onto Delhi way ahead of me.
A week later, I found myself at the airport, doing similar teary goodbyes, sitting at a gate 50 feet down from where I had sat exactly seven days ago. The trip was long, but nothing exciting, racking up only few delays, including a plane shift on the Newark to Delhi leg due to faulty hydraulics on the plane (yikes!). But after meeting up with my luggage in Delhi, a quick overnight in the city, and a short flight the next afternoon, I found myself watching the outline of Dhaka emerge below the thick cloud cover hovering over Bangladesh.
So why bother with all the back and forth and cramped legs and long delays? Besides it being a grand adventure in and of itself, it’s for an independent research project funded by the Fulbright Program, examining how the story of Bangladesh’s independence has morphed in its national curricula since the country’s birth in 1971. But before that even gets underway, there’s three months of Bengali study at the Bengali Language Institute. I’ll be posting a more in-depth description of the project soon, as it becomes clearer precisely what direction it will take.
So there’s the what and how. But one question I’ve got again and again as I’ve talked about this trip is – why Bangladesh?
It’s a good question. Some of the answers I knew while I was applying for this grant, while some I didn’t learn until after I found out I was going. But essentially, in brief – the research I did for my thesis last year got me interested in South Asian historiography, and how the nations in the subcontinent carve distinct national histories out of a shared past. And after traveling to Rajasthan, India with Exposure last summer and loving it, I decided I wanted to try and find a way back to the region.
That’s what I knew going in. But the wonderful surprises? There’s a thriving photography community in Dhaka, largely a product of a wonderful media academy, Pathshala, and photo agency, Drik, both largely headed up by Shahidul Alam. Shahidul is also the founder of MajorityWorld, a fantastic initiative that strives to “provide a platform for indigenous photographers, photographic agencies and image collections from the Majority World to gain fair access to global image markets.” The three organizations support and weave into each other, and the photographers coming into and out of each produce some incredible work. Another plus? I’ve heard rumor of a children’s theater troupe in Dhaka, which goes by the name of Tokay Theatre (but no worries Trunk, they’re no match, I’m sure!). And finally, there’s a wonderful batch of Fulbrighters in the city as well, either doing the same language program or leaping right into their research.
If you happen to be craving more info on Bangladesh, the GlobalPost just produced a five-part in-depth look at Dhaka as the world’s fastest growing megacity. And for more day-to-day coverage, The Daily Star and The Independent are the major English language papers here.
So there’s the intro post! This is probably the longest they’ll get – other ones will take the form of photos, little thoughts and musings, and perhaps an occasional more longwinded reflection (like this!). I’d love it if you subscribed, commented, shared – did whatever you pleased with this site. As it’s is a space for trying to make sense of this trip, I’d be delighted to have your feedback and insight into just how to do just that.
So nomoskar for now, and as a parting shot, here’s one of my first glimpses of Bangladesh!