Pandaemonium

ON THE RIVER IN DHAKA

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These are photos from Sadarghat, the river port of Dhaka, which in many ways is a microcosm of the city itself – in-your-face, bursting with life, tumultuous and gritty, with people and goods and boats all on the move. There are huge multi-storeyed ferries, carrying both passengers and cargo, bound for destinations all over the country. The poorest passengers simply lay a mat on the lower deck; the upper decks have individual cabins for those who can afford it. In Sadarghat, these giant ferries loom over dozens of tiny, gondola-like boats that are the main form of transport on the river, carrying school children and old men, traders and women in burqas. They are forever buzzing up and down and across the river.  And on the opposite bank of the river are boatyards in which huge rusting hulks stand, awaiting repair or destruction, like a set from a sci-fi dystopia. Taking a ride on small boat through this tumult is one of the great experiences.

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The boatmen

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The ferries

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The shipyards

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6 comments

  1. damon

    What do these photos say about the culture of Bangladesh?
    The most striking thing about them to me, is the women with covered faces.
    When that is regarded as everyday and normal, it shows that there’s something that is not right.

    • Actually most women in Dhaka (I cannot talk of rural areas, as I have not been there) don’t wear the burqa. Part of the problem of making sweeping generalizations of ‘the culture of Bangladesh’ from a couple of photos. Having said that, Islamism, and more hardline versions of Islam, have certainly become more prominent in recent years – one of the reasons there is a struggle today over defining the soul of the nation.

      • Agreed, the wearing of the hijab is still very much in the minority but is growing. It’s noticeably increased since my first visit about 18 years ago. The desire to wear the hijab seems to be coming from the youngsters themselves as many of my friends in their 40s are often arguing with their daughters saying things like “your grandmother didn’t wear one, why should you?”. Maybe the vast amounts of money ploughed into mosques and madrassas over recent years is starting to bear fruit?

  2. damon

    I’ve been there too and traveled out around the country. While most women may not wear the burka or niqab, the most noticeable thing is the absence of women just being outside in public.
    Men and boys everywhere, many fewer women and girls.
    I think you should never accept these situations as just being normal ….. as most people in the countries where the misogynistic culture continues do. I always find the niqab jarring and and always have the thought of how stupid it would be if all people everywhere covered themselves in that way.
    Everyone, from the postman to the bus driver to the staff at Costa Coffee.
    You’d never be able to recognise anyone in public.
    I even saw a couple of women in Burkas in that video for your literature event in Dhaka.
    But spend a week in someplace like Dubai, and it does lose its shock value a bit.
    Then you look again and remember how negative it is. Like it was a ball and chain.
    People can be pretty friendly there though. Not many tourists get to the country towns.

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