Vol. 4 Num 218 Mon. January 05, 2004  

Artists duo
Striking out together
Rokeya Sultana and her husband Omar Khalid Rumi talk to Fayza Haq of The Daily Star
The Daily Star: How did the two of you get together?

Rokeya: Ours is an arranged marriage: our fathers worked together in the police. Our parents felt, as Rumi played cricket and was a musician, this would match my being a painter; we would be able to inspire each other in our different fields. Later, Rumi was busy with the ICC world cup selection and his musical preoccupation with his group Feedback. I continued as a student in quest of my Masters.

TDS: Was it difficult for you to pursue your studies and Rumi had to be on his own in Dhaka soon after your marriage?

Rokeya: We missed each other. I used to come to Bangladesh thrice a year, during my holidays and Rumi also visited me once or twice. We loved music and books and we went together to Santiniketan and Kolkata, hunting the old book stalls.

TDS: How did you, Rumi, take the separation when Rokeya was at Santiniketan?

Rumi: The separation was agreed on both sides: when Rokeya got the Indian government scholarship, it was an honour and I couldn't stop her.

TDS: Will you say something about your band?

Rumi: My band Underground Peace Lovers was the first band of its type in Bangladesh in 1972. The first concert was at Hotel Purbani and that was the beginning of my music career. When I started playing cricket for the national side, cricket became more serious to me than music.

TDS: When do you both get together as a twosome when you both have your individual work in cricket, music and painting?

Rumi: I found Rokeya serious with her painting, so, I let her do it. She likes music as well and doesn't come in the way when I pursue my music. She is also encouraging about my cricket. As for painting, it is nothing new for me as I was attracted to it even as a child.

TDS: Does Rumi's music get on Rokeya's nerves or do the long hours that Rokeya gives to her painting make Rumi restless?

Rokeya: Sometimes, I feel left out as he remains wrapped in his world of music. However, I feel I wouldn't have given so much of my time to painting if Rumi had not been so serious about his music and cricket.

Rumi: I spend the time in my own way when I find Rokeya busy with her students and artist friends. Sometimes, in the morning, when I don't get my breakfast due to Rokeya's preoccupations, I might feel flustered.

TDS: Does Rumi give you enough time to get on with your work, specially during the Biennales?

Rokeya: Neither of us come in each other's way. When I'm too busy and can't give Rumi and my daughter Laura their meals in the normal manner, none of them complains. I work in bits and pieces on my work. When I need special time for my work, I do this at night when no one is disturbed or wants my attention.

TDS: Do you find it hard to combine painting with teaching, house keeping and putting up a bright face at social functions?

Rokeya: It is hard but over the years I've got used to it.

TDS: What were your experiences, say, in USA and France, where you went recently? Did you take your family with you?

Rokeya: My family went to Nebraska and Chicago in USA with me, and they joined me after three weeks in France. I taught print-making as a visiting teacher in Nebraska, and in France I had an artist residency programme arranged by Andre Raynouard of the French Embassy.

TDS: Does any of you feel that the other tends to over shine the other?

Rumi: I don't' think so. We've been doing our own thing in our own way and there's no competition or clash at all.

Omar Khalid Rumi and Rokeya Sultana