Mr. Samsu picks up the largest brush from the basket and thinks for a while. This may well be the last painting he ever does. He does not need to draw anything from before. He has enough expertise and experience. Sixty years worth of it. So without wasting another moment he dabs the brush into a can of Rumana colors – the brilliant shade of red, it has always been his favorite.
From the time he first laid eyes on the 10 inch vacant steel plate, he knew what he would paint. By using his shaky, yet mastered hands, he would bring to life his dream girl – Bobita. He intricately paints her face with the many hues of blue, yellow, green and pink and borders her facial structures with a bold black.
The light from the only window illuminates the canvas and he himself becomes impressed by his creation of dangerous vibrant colors. It was his contribution to this world. His contribution to people’s art.
We are all familiar with Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne (at least some of you must be. Otherwise, where is this world headed?)But are you familiar with S.M. Samsu or the many more like him? The rickshaw paintings we see everyday are so common to us locals, that we don’t appreciate it to the fullest. But we’ve always been observers. How do you think the painters feel?
By talking to Mr.Samsu and other rickshaw painters, we learn to understand what art feels like to them. They are like any other world-class painter: they make a living with their passion, support their families and try their best to provide education for their children. They are inspired by the energy of the surrounding and they successfully create that energy with the bold colors that they use. They paint and draw without primary education, or any kind of education for that matter, because from the distant time of their childhood, they’ve learnt to observe and absorb the scenery around them. And the things that inspire them are the ones that they paint.
From the time of Old Dhaka’s heydays, rickshaw painters have carried on with their work silently. When they see a rickshaw with their painted plates pass by, they still well-up with pride. But as times keep rolling, these paintings have been degraded and their worth is unnoticed. Mr.Samsu tells RS, ‘Rickshaw painting is nothing more than a low worth dirty job nowadays. It was hard for me but I had to accept this and move onto exhibiting and selling my paintings to foreigners. They seem to appreciate our art more than our people.’
Why don’t we see its worth? A common answer could be that there are so much of such paintings that people think that making them is simple and ordinary. If that’s what you think, then try painting one yourself. Chances are, you’ll miss the mark by a long way.
Like any other paintings, abstract or not, rickshaw paintings inspire us. Have you ever noticed the colors that they use? They make the plates of the rickshaws stand out. Hence, they are bold and we notice them more than we would have if they were painted with light colors. The simplicity of their work disguises the complexity and inner messages they may contain. The paintings are the painters’ podiums where they can say whatever they feel. The paintings can be decoded in various ways. But to do so we must observe them with open minds. We must cherish their existence, because without them the streets of our cities would be a whole lot more bland.