Withering

by Zishaan A Latif

Concept:

Withering is an endeavour to document the ‘drowning state of existence’ of the river island of Majuli in Assam. It is a catastrophe caused by the aggressive Brahmaputra. The aim is to reflect on the larger consequence of climate change and displacement. A segue of this project is the documentation of a disappearing, mystical and culturally rich environment; an organic community which presents itself as an alarming example of the issue of sustainability that the world must take cognisance of.

 

On the island, we traverse a fading ancient culture, the desperation to be afloat, a human engagement with nature palpable in their routine as they plough their fields, fish and weave tradition into the everyday, which make them feel alive even if for that moment, yet that silence persists, an all pervasive calm before the storm.

 

Majuli, in the river Brahmaputra, was once the largest river island in the world. Organic agro-farming is the primary occupation of most of the 1.70 million residents, mainly of the Mising, Deori, Sonowal and Kachari tribes. The island is widely regarded as the cradle of the Ahom civilisation and the fountainhead of neo-Vaishnavism in Assam, India.

The 2,900 km river originates in Tibet as the Tsangpo, flows through Arunachal Pradesh as the Siang, and becomes the mighty Brahmaputra in the Assamese plains. It is prone to catastrophic flooding every year when the Himalayan snowmelt combines with unrestrained monsoon downpours. The evidence of climate change is harsh and rapid on the island as it is disappearing faster today, than ever before.

Today, Majuli faces extinction due to erosion. Huge chunks of the island are falling off into the Brahmaputra – its landmass is down by a fourth already! According to records, in 1800 the total area of Majuli was 1,150 sq. km. and about 33% of this landmass eroded in the latter half of the 20th century. The most recent satellite imagery from 2016 shows the island’s landmass at just 524.29 sq. km.

The causes of this mass devastation are innumerable. Complications, including ill-planned construction and dams, lead to agitated waterways and irreversible damage. To add to this, corruption is rampant through the blatant misappropriation of funds meant to be allocated for prevention and rebuilding purposes.

People quietly rebuild their lives over and over, watching the establishment’s futile efforts to manage the disaster and knowing that they must work with nature, not against it. From the overcrowded ferry manoeuvring to avoid the shifting sands, one sees how the river slices through land, constantly eroding from one bank to deposit on another, without design or purpose.

About Zishaan:

An independent photographer since 2005, Zishaan’s work stems from intuition and passion which blends into the personal and sometimes eclectic. He works in many genres in the field. The art of making a photograph thrills him and thus releases him from preconceived notions of visual imagery or expectations from the various schools of thought. He loves working with different textures, formats and art forms, even using the art of motion picture in his creative pursuits. His work has been featured in both commercial and non- commercial collections, exhibitions and publications worldwide.