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1971 in Kishor Parekh’s eyes

  • Published at 06:41 pm December 16th, 2016
  • Last updated at 12:23 am December 17th, 2016
1971 in Kishor Parekh’s eyes

To a handful of Bangladeshi people, Parekh is known as the brave soul who came to Bangladesh on his own without any assignment from any newspaper, magazine or news agency and documented one of the worst genocides which took place during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.

Unfortunately, aside from the members in photographic society and veterans of 1971, Parekh's name hasn't become as widely known as it should have been in Bangladesh but those who have seen his works under the photo series “Bangladesh- a Brutal Birth” have a clear notion that those photos belong right up in the hall of fame of best photos ever.

In an interview with Indian Express, Kishor Parekh's son Swapon Parekh said that they used to live in Hong Kong then. “I was five. We would come to the beach on weekends, where dad would occasionally paint. That day he was very uneasy and said, ‘My country is burning and here I am doing this.’ He didn’t let emotions for his four kids and wife weighs him down. At that time he was the editor of three magazines, and none of them were news, so the project was self-assigned and self-funded.”

[caption id="attachment_40408" align="alignright" width="400"]kishore parekh1 A self-portrait of Kishore Parekh Collected[/caption]

Interestingly, the then East Pakistan was not his country as he was born in Bhavnagar Gujrat in India. But Parekh who was born in 1930 in an undivided Indian subcontinent always felt that there was no difference between Gujrat's soil and Bangladesh's.

Financing himself, Parekh landed in Bombay, went to a friend in Calcutta and persuaded him to drive him to the border. They reached a spot where no civilians could cross the border.

There he spotted an army helicopter leaving for Dhaka carrying an official press troupe, but since he didn’t have the mandatory clearances, the accompanying army Major refused him permission. That’s when he famously said, ‘Shoot me here right now or take me’.

He landed in the warzone, befriended the mukti-bahini (freedom fighters) there, who gave him a jeep for travelling. Once there, he shot for five days —December 16 was the surrender, he stuck around for an extra day or two and that’s when the other pictures happened.

Parekh came back to Hong Kong, immediately processed the pictures and contact sheets were made in a few days. “My mother said that after returning from Bangladesh, he didn’t come home but went to the studio straightaway. He lost a lot of weight in those days because he couldn’t eat. He said all he could smell was rotten flesh.” his son recalls.

Returning quickly with a dummy of the photo book to India, he met officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and they ordered 20,000 copies, in English and French. So, in two weeks, everything happened, and by January, the book was out.

Swapan Parekh told The Indian Express that the family only has two copies. “I don’t know where all the copies are. I presume some of them were destroyed. In the book, all the captions are written by him, they are very poetic, and in first person — for instance, lines like ‘people wept as silently as the dead’.”

Parekh had great linguistic skills and the text inside his book on liberation war is a testament to that. He wrote, “Even in man’s vocabulary of horror, there are no words to describe the brutality of the Pakistani army against its Bengali brothers. It lasted nine nightmarish months. There is no parallel in history for the cumulative scale of atrocities by the Pakistani army between March 25, 1971, when negotiations for an autonomous East Bengal broke down, and December 17, 1971 when the Bangladeshi flag was raised in Dhaka.”

He also wrote that “It was not jus a casual fling of death like the holocaust of Hiroshima. It went beyond the clinical cruelty of the Belsen concentration camps. During those nine months, the dehumanization of Bangladesh defied imagination: one out of every seven East Bengali fled from his home- and a tidal wave of 10 million people was hurled into refugee camps of India. At least two million people were wiped out; thousands of women were raped; the mutilated and the maimed.”

Incidentally, Parekh’s Bangladesh venture was his swansong to news photography, and he swung purposefully into commercial and studio photography - and turned eventually to the task of putting together picture books. But more than anything else, he will be remembered most of all for the pictures he took during the liberation war of 1971 that touched the essence of the human perils and sufferings.

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