Light Deciphered: What ‘Belonging’ showed to me…

Syed Latif Hossain
on May 21, 2015, updated December 15, 2015


 Light Deciphered: What ‘Belonging’ showed to me…

For me, the book almost deciphered the mystery of light – that elusive blob of glowing brilliance that we as children, chased after to touch. Then once we accept that it is not tangible, it still takes us years to understand – if we do at all – in terms of the laws jargons of physics; even those answers leave us still unsatisfied with the true meaning of the brilliance. There is something beyond the gamut of physics that keeps nagging many of us. Here, that very ‘light’ is defined; and Munem has done so without words.

 The ‘light’ that becomes tactile in Munem’s book, was captured through a medium, photography. It leaves us to interpret or ingest it in our very own individual ways, ways that are framed by our life’s experiences and the vision that we gradually develop since those days after we gave up chasing the physicality of light. This is what Munem has used photography to do, and it in some cases obviates words or in other, vouchsafes it.

Munem’s ‘Belonging’ alludes to an answer to my long-held question – why would these thousands of people huddle together in the same claustrophobic places in an expanding city? Why don’t they leave this convoluted labyrinth of ruins? Poverty? No. Not entirely. Many, who could have left, choose to stay; sticking to devil knows what. This reminds us of Harun Yahya’s words, “I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth, then I ask myself the same question. ”

Despite countless visits and many interactions with its people, I knew almost nothing about what lay deep inside the life in Old Dhaka, which is something that I had always remained curious about. And my questions remained unanswered until I saw Munem Wasif’s book “Belonging”. And these people in his book keep huddling together like swarms of bees in a hive – only without the ‘cellular’ borders – defying the primacy of privacy. And they huddle not only among themselves, but also with their pets; including the ones to be served in lunch or dinner; sometimes in their own household or in someone else’s. Living in such proximity, you come to know each other — what is under one’s skin; and you may love or just tolerate each other — only for a deeper reason not to be easily described in words. Maybe because you see the souls under the facades of whatever identity we each bear. You find profoundness through the banal, in mundane. These are my conjectures emanating from my turmoil of amazement and discoveries that this body of work gave me. I hold on to it, leaf through it almost weekly. It is magnetic and can reveal little details every time.

The photographs are all black and white. Low key; dark. Kind of a darkness that makes the subtle sparks of light stand out. And this interplay of light and dark brings forth something elseto the surface; and almost gives us a reason, something tangible, that can explain why the birds choose to stay in the same place…

Without this book, it would be only from the literary works of Akhtaruzzaman Elias that we learn of stories like this, with such intimacy, on Old Dhaka. And then, it doesn’t remain a story of Old Dhaka; it becomes a story of us, the humans; transcending time and place. A classic.

There is no need to talk about this acclaimed photographer to describe his craftsmanship or artistry, which is clearly obvious. The world knows about it already, and whatever remained, is reflected in this book.

Do I have a complaint about the book? Or a regret of some sort? Yes, I do. It could have been in much bigger format, but then I could not have leafed through it curled up in a couch or wherever I might be carrying it to, the way I can do now. The number of photographs could be more than 69, but then again, a thousand pictures might not be enough to tell an ever changing story of ‘staying in the same place’. It could be more affordable, but then economy in its printing and finishing would risk the finesse of production that this work deserves. Yet maybe someday it can become affordable to many. Until then, the seer should get hold of it the way it is — priceless.