Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 56, Tuesday February 24, 2009




a burning issue

KASHEF Chowdhury, speaking about his recent exhibition at Bengal Gallery says that the display of six photos and floors of leaves arises basically from the concern for the loss of green in our cities, especially Dhaka, and how we build houses but do not cater to private or public spaces which are green, where the children can go and where we can have a breath of fresh air. It was a personal story that Kashef narrates. As an architect, he has always tried to stay away from developers, as he did not believe in building "boxes" in the name of houses and shops, leaving a gap of only four feet where you cannot have plantation and have very little light or air.

A close friend of his, who was arrested randomly not so long ago caused him to think. Kashef never realised how close he was to him until he was taken in. "Plot No 56", which is the name of the exhibition, is a plot of land, which is not built up and is left green and natural. This belongs to the artist Kibria. When his friend was taken, sitting in the garden, Kashef realised that the plants in the plot of land were lonely as all around were only boxes.

He tried to photograph the plants in the darkening light, before the rain began, at about 4 pm. The apparently melancholic plants began to dance in the wind and he captured their movement in the camera. There are only 12 photographs as Kashef says that there is little to say about a city that has lost its green. There are no leaves falling on the ground as there is no ground for the leaves to fall on to, says Kashef.

These photos were taken over a period of a week. "With only few photos on the walls of the gallery, the floor is covered, as we no longer see leaves on the ground in Dhaka any more and the sound of crushed leaves is something we have lost forever," says Kashef. He adds, "I wanted to concentrate on the images and didn't want to clutter the walls with too many photographs.”

"I worked with Kashef on the Surrhuwardy Uddan project. His ideas about preservation of nature is excellent. This exhibition reminds me of my childhood, when we had nature around us. Town planners all over the world are trying to preserve greenery. I'm sure our architects will find a way of holding on to disappearing trees and plants. In 1905 Proudlock tried to revitalise Dhaka by planting trees in what we know today as the Ramna Green, says Dwijen Sarma, naturalist and writer, who helped inaugurate the display.

In all his pictures the greenery depicted are ones that require light and air. “Even the picture of the blades of grass is something you cannot give your children today,” says Kashef. The creeping plant, though simple in itself, is beautiful in the way it is about to give out leaves.

By Fayza Haq

Reader's Chit

The Souvenir

IT was February of 2003, right around Saint Valentine's Day and through some stroke of luck I was in Paris and staying there for a few days' vacation. My heart was heavy -the original plan was to stay in a small village in Belgium but when it didn't work out I decided to come to Paris, one of my favourite cities. Many years ago as a teenager I always got a racing heart when I read on the glitzy, attractive perfume bottles. the small writings usually at the very bottom of the bottle "London-Paris-New York"... these bottles were not mine but belonged to an aunt or an older cousin who kept them on their dressing tables.

My young girl's heart, more than wanting to use the perfume, longed to be in those mysterious cities and live there on my own. Later as a grown up I lived in New York, and had visited Paris, but this time I was much older, with no frivolous wishes anymore, but was there rather for refuge, so to speak.

I was staying in a hotel called Regyns Montmartre at the Metro stop of Abessess. I had found the hotel through the Internet and stayed there two years back and had liked its smallness and the great location. It was on Montmartre, the only hill in Paris; I could see the famous Eiffel Tower at a distance. It was good that I was away from the very busy spots in town, especially since this was going to be my home for the next eight days and I would pretend as if I lived in Paris- no frenzied sight-seeing, but spending quiet and ordinary days.

That morning, the sun was trying to rise amidst cold and often grey February skies. In front of the hotel was the metro stop, on the right side a church and there on the left corner was a small park. There were only a few people around. It had already been two days but I had not gone inside the park, neither had I seen anyone going in there in those gloomy days.

That morning, after breakfast, very spontaneously I walked into the park, which was more like a large garden; couple of benches and old but bare trees all around, in the centre an earth garden with bushes and grass, the light ray of sun was pushing in... I saw on the left far side a large dark blue wall about 40 x 20 feet, with some writings that looked like scribbles from afar. Walking closer to it, all I could make out were scripts, different styles of handwritings.

Coming right in front of it I saw it was a blue tile wall with writings in different languages. The wall was covered top to bottom, side to side, not with graffiti but with a ceramic artwork. I concentrated in trying to figure this out and voila... right in the centre of this wall I saw a very clear Bangla sentence, "Ami Tomakey Bhalobashi"!

I figured it was a multicultural public wall and then I spotted a few other 'I love you's' in English, German, French, Hindi.. but hundreds more that I couldn't read! But those moments of surprise and delight at seeing the Bangla sentence and seeing it so clearly in the most unexpected time and place brought me such emotions! I thought it was heaven sent!

This three-word phrase, the ultimate expression of deep emotion we all carry inside of us was right there in front of my eyes. Moreover, the fact that it was in Bangla was undoubtedly a reward; having lived abroad for many years of my life until that point, seeing and hearing my native tongue would always bring immense pleasure - however the awe and uniqueness of these first moments would be something for me to hold in my consciousness for years and years to come if not for a lifetime!

That I saw this writing in Montmartre, Paris where artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and many other famous 20th century artists lived, worked and spent time. The possibility of such a melange of many languages and this expression of love- Montmartre after all is a very likely place, but still…!

This ceramic public art wall provided me with a sense of realisation that life comes with its mysteries and its endless surprises. Recently I had gone back to this wall, as if making a pilgrimage. But now it was summertime and many people were taking photographs, children were playing, locals hanging out- it was impossible to find a solitary moment with the wall.

Five years ago on that February morning, in the slightly misty, lightly sunny atmosphere when I was the only person there, I had a rare moment in which I had discovered something invaluable for myself. This time at present, it was different because I had not simply perchance wandered into the space, I had gone there to rekindle the awesome moment and also with someone special. It made the perfect romantic souvenir I could give to us.

By Shaheen Rashid


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