Monday, October 06, 2008


Slightly belated post on Eid, no thanks to general procrastination and an exploding laptop power adaptor. Actually, it didn't really explode, but then again there's never any smoke without fire, is there?

I woke up early on Eid to go down to Baitul Mukkarram in Gulistan, which I've been told is the biggest mosque in Bangladesh. Don't ask me what it looked like - I couldn't go in, seeing as how I'm challenged, gender-wise.

I put the photos up on Flickr a couple of days ago, and it's always interesting to see which photos get clicked on the most and the least. This one received the least clicks thus far:

Eid - Baitul Mukkaram

I would like to write about this as bluntly as possible, so forgive any remarks that may come across as callous.

Seeing as how I couldn't really enter the mosque, I spent most of my time at the gates where a sizable number of beggars had formed two orderly rows to "channel" people who were entering the mosque, therefore making it impossible for them not to notice the outstretched hands.

As expected, I was left alone as soon as I had made it clear I was not handing out any money whatsoever. Whoever else who approached me was soon told to go away, not by me, but by the other beggars who had previously tried.

While the atmosphere remained friendly for most of the time, it was hard not to become competitive with all this money at stake. It was Eid, the day of goodwill and general giving, and these boys and men coming to the mosque decked out in their new punjabis were obliged to hand out money. It was a buffet, and the money was yours to lose.

So the fastest got the most cash. The hands that reached out first, the one that looked the most needy. It was not a time for a display of strength. Most were either elderly or handicapped. One young and able-bodied youth who tried asking for money received a tongue-lashing about how he should just go get a job.

Several minor arguments broke out as a result, a little pushing and shoving, but nothing serious. Mostly over the question of territory. They didn't take too kindly to someone else honing in on their space.

I've always shyed away from taking pictures of beggars, mainly because I don't know how they feel about it. I feel like it takes the exploitation to a new, higher level, and I haven't quite figured out how to absolve myself in that way. Mostly, I worry that they would not take too kindly to my actions.

The group I photographed that day didn't seem to mind it at all. They smiled for the camera, they smiled at me, they asked me questions. I found their compliance most liberating.

But back to the least-clicked picture above. Its not uncommon to find beggars carrying around medical documents in plastic folders or bags. I usually can't understand what they're saying, but the point is clear.

The child in the photo couldn't speak for herself. She didn't smile at me. In fact, if anything, her eyes barely registered my presence. She remained silent as the others went on chattering around me. When I started to photograph her, the people who were accompanying her (family members, I assume) beckoned me closer, lifted her up and tried to arrange her in a pose that would expose her even more.

I stopped. I also had to stop myself from asking about the contents of those medical documents, stop myself from asking "What's wrong with her?" because, really, I didn't want to know.

I had thought I would've had good news to post on this blog, but an email came this morning that put that to rest. No good news for now, let's see what happens.