After living in Dhaka for a while, we tend to forget that hidden under the blanket of dusty air is a city which is beautiful in its own, unique way.
We complain that there is not much to do here other than eating out at restaurants. But perhaps we should look at Dhaka differently and explore its forgotten landmarks and historical sites, as did Tabassum Ahmed.
A PhD student at the University of Huddersfield, UK, she always longed to represent Dhaka in a positive way. "I love travelling solo and I have travelled to quite a few places in and out of Bangladesh. As it happens, when I went somewhere abroad, I stood out as a brown person. I saw that many westerners did not understand how a girl from a third-world country was travelling all by herself. They had this notion that we are restricted within the four walls of our home and are not allowed to go anywhere."
Tabassum went on, "I also had trouble explaining to them where I was from and how Dhaka really looked like, I struggled to show them the good side of my city."
She liked travelling around different cities and taking pictures but she felt she never explored or represented her own city, Dhaka.
Tabassum decided that the next time she would be in Dhaka, she would explore its elements, architect, and history and create a photo series.
"I manifested #DhakainRed at the beginning of 2020 and eventually posted on my Facebook page about arranging a photo walk in Dhaka and asked others if they were willing to join," she said.
To her surprise, hundreds of people responded to her post and expressed their interest in joining the photo walk. But the pandemic began and Tabassum could not come to Dhaka.
She finally arrived here in December 2020, gave another post on social media, and selected some people whose pictures she was going to take.
"The ones I selected were complete strangers but through the photoshoots, we became friends. I sent them a Google form and started communicating with them. I asked them to select three places in Dhaka and after fixing dates, from December to January, I did photoshoots with them."
"My idea was to take pictures of women wearing some element of red – could be a red saree, a scarf, or any red accessory – in different landmarks in Dhaka. #DhakainRed is the story of a girl in red who roams around Dhaka and looks at it from her perspective. I may have taken thousands of shots, all with my phone," she explained.
Before writing the photo captions, Tabassum had long conversations with the person in the picture. "I cross-checked her emotions, how she was feeling when she was at the place and what was going on in her mind at that time. Then I added the history and significance of the place."
#DhakainRed has become a popular trend, more like a movement as many women are wearing red and sharing their photos with this hashtag. Tabassum has started another Instagram account named "Dhaka in Red".
Her posts have reached thousands of people and have garnered a lot of comments and shares. She expressed her happiness, "When people message me and tell me how they love the trend, and how beautiful the photos are, I become encouraged to do more things like this in future. My friend Tasnim Ferdous has been instrumental in making this project happen with all her patience, support, and encouragement."
"After seeing the photos, many people told me they did not even know that these places existed in Dhaka. In our busy lives, we rarely spare a moment to take a close look at these places," she added.
The photos were taken in various places in Dhaka including the Dhaka University campus, the colourfully painted walls near Charukola, Curzon Hall, Ruplaal House, the flower shops in Shahbagh, and many more.
Tabassum concluded, "Before engaging in the photo series, I also thought like others, that many of these places did not allow visitors. But to my surprise, I learned that places like Hosseini Dalan and Tara Masjid did allow visitors. I realised that even after living here since birth, we do not know our own city."