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          Volume 11 |Issue 11| March 16, 2012 |


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A Sudden Exit

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Few people have the privilege of being remembered fondly by their colleagues no matter how brief their interaction. Shawkat Jamil who died at age 56, at the peak of his career, will be remembered for his amiable disposition and tireless work as a photojournalist.

Ironically it was while covering an assignment that he fell ill, later reaching his home and breathing his last probably of a heart attack, leaving behind his loving wife and a son.

Boats stranded on the Buriganga on March 12, 2012.
Photo: Shawkat Jamil

It all happened rather too suddenly. Only that very morning The Daily Star's front page bore an eye catching image – boatmen being bullied by pro-government labourers at Keraniganj so that they refrained from plying the river. An inset shows others running with sharp weapons to intimidate the boatmen, part of the government's plan to prevent BNP supporters from entering the city.

While capturing the news was first priority, it was his creative instincts that gave Jamil's photographs an artistic twist. He was always at the spot of an incident, whether it was to cover the BDR carnage or a protest of villagers against a proposed airport. But even then he had an eye for aesthetics and emotion like the shot of a BDR member weeping for his dead colleagues or the symmetry of boats stuck at the river bank. His passion for photojournalism came with risks - he fell from the first floor of the High Court while covering the Bangabandhu murder trial, damaging his spinal cord; recently he broke his hand in a motorcycle accident, while on duty. He was detained along with a fellow photojournalist for several hours for taking pictures of trees felled by a public university's authorities. Even the day he died he was at Elephant Road to cover a fire. He took his very last photographs that morning.

Shawkat Jamil

With an honours degree in Economics from Dhaka University, photojournalism was an unlikely profession to choose. But his love of the camera and its power to capture life as it is urged this young man from Barisal to take various courses in photography, starting from the Begart Institute in Dhaka. Later he took other courses at home and abroad. He became a staff reporter in the Daily Sangbad eventually becoming a senior photographer, a staff photographer in the Daily Khabor from 1985 to 1990 and a stringer photographer for AFP for a year in 2000, joining The Daily Star in 2005 as a senior staff photographer.

To his colleagues he was Jamil bhai, tall and lean, a quiet, soft spoken, extremely polite man who would never forget to hold the door for a female colleague. One would run into him and exchange pleasantries, sometimes even get a glimpse of the mischievous side of this otherwise reserved character. Colleagues were often his target of harmless leg pulling that made him all the more endearing. He would often hum Rabindra Sangeet tunes while working, revealing his weakness for music and the arts.

Today, Tuesday as this is being written, has been a bizarre day for us at The Daily Star. Like a few months ago when we lost another colleague, Hashem Bhai, this afternoon too, we had to place wreaths near a lifeless body at the ground floor of our office. He will no more walk into the office with careful steps to save his back. He will no more smile at us upon an unexpected meeting near the lift, in the staircase or in the canteen where we become friends more than colleagues. But we will remember Jamil bhai for those special moments and for the sincere contributions he has made to this noble, yet often thankless profession.

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