Isme Azam Portrait of a researcher

first_imgResearcher Isme Azam. Prothom Alo File PhotoBarnoi is a small river that flows by the Bagmara upazila township of Rajshahi. There was a heap of old bricks by the bank of the river that the local people assumed was an old brick field. Young boys of the village used to hang out there in the afternoon.When Isme Azam was a young schoolboy, he used to live near the site and would often walk around the area. One day he found a figurine of a meditating man in the heap. He talked to local elders and consulted books, later learning that the small statue was of the 11th century Buddhist scholar Srijnana Atisa Dipakara.This inquisitive mind led Isme Azam delve into the history of the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. In the last few years, he has discovered much startling information about the people who used to live in the area more than 1000 years ago and the artefacts of that period. The meticulousness of his work and value of his findings have astonished even professional archaeologists of the country.Isme Azam was born in Rangpur but his childhood was spent in different areas of the country since his father was a police officer. He only completed secondary school in formal education, but never actually stopped studying.“Actually, I can’t stop reading. I acquired this addiction to reading from childhood. While staying in Puthia, Rajshahi, I read all the books of the children’s section in the local library. To tell you the truth, I always look for libraries and museums whenever I visit new places,” he said.After giving up academic studies, he engaged himself in various activities. In 2010, he worked with the members of Wild Team, an international conservation organisation which began in 2003 as The Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, and went to Khulna in 2012 with them.“While working to preserve the tigers of the Sundarbans I decided to know more about the local people. How would I make them aware if I didn’t know about their lifestyle, professions or their past?”This spark of thought led him to begin reading books on the Sundarbans, its history, life and tradition of the people dwelling in the area. His interest grew as he read more.Archaeologist Mohammad Sohrabuddin of Comilla University is busy excavating settlement traces in the Sundarbans that might be around 1,500 years old. Photo: Ehsan-ud-DaulaFor the first time, he went into the deeper parts of the Sundarbans in 2015 and stayed there for 45 days. He had visited all four administrative ranges of the mangrove forest of the Bangladesh part to have firsthand experience of the forest and collected innumerable artefacts and photos of the area that time.Returning home, he bought many books, consulted specialists and started doing research on his findings. But new questions arose. Once again, Isme Azam took a tour to the Sundarbans for four months in 2016. He made a very significant discovery during the second tour. He found a settlement older than 1000 years old.He said installations of the settlement, earlier covered by forest land, emerged into the open following soil erosion. “This was probably a seaport of ancient times, ruined over the ages.”According to the findings, the largest structures were located around 83 kilometres away from Shyamnagar of Satkhira, along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, in Khejurdana, Arpangashia and Shekhertek.More structures were discovered along the bank of the river Kholpatua in the Satkhira part of the Sundarbans and in Katka, in the Khulna part of the forest.Professional researchers collected more data from the site. At the initiative of Prothom Alo, a team of researchers visited the area discovered by Isme Azam. The discovery drew attention of the academics.This year he had stayed in the deeper parts of the Sundarbans for three months. The amateur archaeologist said he has made progress in his research works alongside the survey of tigers in the forest. He has made new discoveries: graves of salt-workers, many earthen utensils, bones of animals and establishments. Azam is hopeful he would be able to draw up a complete map of the salt industry in the area.Being a fieldworker his workplace is near Munshiganj of Satkhira, adjacent to the Sundarbans. There he has been taking his research further alongside his regular professional tasks.Recently Azam has started writing a book. “I have two dreams – publishing a book about my research and establishing a museum and research centre. I hope the book will be published in the next Ekushey book fair. But it’s not possible for me alone to set up the museum and research centre. Government and private help is necessary for their dream to materialise.”He gave hints about the content of the book. “I’ll discuss about the earliest settlements, their geological and ethnological sides, a complete mapping of the salt industry of the area, natural history and folklore of the Sundarbans.”Isme Azam wishes to study the Chattogram Hill Tracts area once these two dreams materialise.*Sajib Mia is an apprentice sub-editor of Prothom Alo. The report, originally published in the special supplement marking 20th founding anniversary of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Rezalast_img