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     Volume 6 Issue 47 | December 7, 2007 |

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Cover Story

A True Visionary

Elita Karim

Bangladesh is built on the ideals of visionaries and revolutionaries, each of whom contributed to our young nation in their unique ways. Some gave their lives for the liberation of our country, while others protested against any form of injustice in the newly liberated land. Today, Bangladesh, although a free nation, is still in need of a vision -- a vision which will evoke pride within our youth, that will give the people the strength to fight against wrongdoings, and will lead our next generation into an enlightened world.

Nitun Kundu working on one of his great creations, Shabash Bangladesh

Such a visionary is Nitun Kundu. Born on December 3, 1935 in Dinajpur, Kundu is not only known as an artist and a sculptor, but as one of the most innovative entrepreneurs of our time. His friends remember him as a self-made man who never stopped working even at the age of 70. According to artist Hashem Khan, Kundu had been dreaming of doing something different from the time he was a child. Even in his old age, he was a model for the younger generation with his unique vision and creativity and his legend remains with us even today, over a year after he passed away on September 15, 2006.

Kundu's famous poster depicting the Liberation War

Many have compared his versatility to great masters like Leonardo Da Vinci. His most famous works in different parts of Bangladesh showcase his vision and hopes for a better and stronger nation. For example, 'Shabash Bangladesh' at Rajshashi University, is interpreted as an inspiration for the youth of Bangladesh to never stop fighting against injustice and building a better nation. The sculpture, which shows two male figures in motion, portrays virility of the youth and their unquenchable thirst for freedom. Heavily swayed by the futurist movement, it is also a sombre reminder of the great war of liberation in which hundreds and thousands of Bangalis, some of whom were students, took up arms to fight occupation and injustice.

Another structure called 'Shampan' located in Chittagong is especially interesting because of the innovative architecture that he developed for it, as well as its allusion to ancient culture. It is more abstract in nature, but at the same time it shows contours and sharpness, remaining true to the landscape of Chittagong where it is located. The vastness of its form and scope fits well with the immensity of the sea and the hills of the region. One of the most well-known of his works, the 'Saarc Fountain', which is in front of Hotel Sonargaon symbolises progressive thinking and ideas. These three structures, teamed with the 'Kadamphul Fountain' in front of the Foreign Ministry, not only define Kundu's superiority in the field of art and sculpture, but also gives us a peek at his life and times. Through his work we see that Kundu clearly hoped for a prosperous motherland, a Bangladesh that is self-reliant and proud of its own culture and heritage. Not only do his designs reflect his excellent hold and knowledge of the crafts of the art they also show his pride in being a citizen of a free nation.

Nitun Kundu spending time in his favourite world of art and colour

This pride and nationalism is especially evident in Kundu's posters and designs depicting the Liberation War. His famous poster, 'Shoda Jagroto Banglar Muktibahini,' a portrait of a young middle class labourer, holding a rifle, ready to join the march to independence and freedom, can be seen all over Bangladesh even today. During our Muktijuddo this poster kept the flame of resistance burning, and since the liberation of Bangladesh it has been a source of inspiration for the toiling masses.

His attachment to his motherland and its struggle for freedom is evident in these works as recalled by artist and Kundu's friend, prominent artist Rafiqun Nabi, who claims that Kundu was always strongly involved in the cultural and political movements of his time. During the war, he was working at the United States Information Services (USIS) and would help his fellow artists and students in every way possible. “He would also make posters, draw out protest slogans and make banners against the war and violence while working at the USIS as the Chief Designer,” says daughter Amity Kundu, who is an architect and interior designer. “He, in his own ways, would do everything in his power, back then, to encourage the liberation movement in the country.”

Even after liberation, Kundu wanted to give back to his country and make a difference in the lives of others. A student of the Bachelors of Fine Arts, where he majored in Drawing and Painting and secured first class from Charukala Institute, (then East Pakistan Charu and Karukala University), one of his dreams was to be a teacher at the institute. He himself was constantly learning the ever-changing faces of arts and colour around the world. “He would always read up on the latest technology and innovations in his field,” says Amity. “He would do all his designs using the latest software on the computer.” Watching him think, work and explore this vast field, Amity adds that her father had the mind of a natural born architect. “His love for drawing and painting led him to study more on this subject,” she says.

Shabash Bangladesh
The Saarc Fountain

The fact that his dream of becoming a teacher never came true did not deter him from creating his own world. He became one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, even winning The Daily Star Business Awards in 2001. His friend and fellow artist Hamiduzzaman Khan says that Otobi, one of the country's leading furniture stores that Kundu established, is a remarkable achievement in combining wood with metal. Kundu would design his structures and furniture using the full potential of his colourful imagination and skills. He also won prizes for the pavilions that he set up at the different export fairs.

Kundu first set up Otobi at his Topkhana Road home at least thirty years ago. “It was not only the inner artist and creator in him that led him to open up his own furniture and design shop,” says Amity. “I believe it was also out of sheer responsibility that sparked the imagination of his great soul. He started with Otobi right after I was born in 1974. By the time my brother Animesh Kundu was born in 1977, our father had a full fledged family to look after.” During the early days of Otobi, a patron had visited Kundu and ordered 500 chairs. That was when the saga of building his empire actually began. Now, with a factory in Shyampur, Otobi's creations and designs have crossed the mark of excellence, constructing one new structure after the other.

Friends and family get together to launch Nitun Kundu's solo exhibition at the Bengal Shiplaya. PHOTO: Zahidul I. Khan

Kundu was well known among his friends and family members for being a perfectionist and also working for hours at a stretch. “He was always drawing or painting or coming up with new designs,” says Amity. He would stay up for several nights together to complete his designs and paintings. In spite of being the chairperson of a huge establishment, Kundu would spend plenty of time in his world of art and colour. “My father's management team was built in such a manner that it would sometimes run for days without him coming to office,” says Amity. “For instance, while constructing 'Shabash Bangladesh', at one point he spent nights literally under the sky trying to perfect his creation. In between all that, he would keep in touch with his team in Dhaka and work over the phone.”

Amity Kundu standing against her father's portrait

However, his relentless passion for art and his responsibilities towards Otobi, combined with old age, eventually physically exhausted the artist. Right after completing the 'Saarc Fountain', he collapsed and had his first heart attack. In spite of being physically drained, Kundu was still going strong emotionally and did not stop working.

Kundu's hectic work pressure did not stop him from tending to the needs of his family and spending quality time with his wife Falguni Kundu and his two children. “He was absolutely devoted to his family,” says Amity. “He had a few rituals before leaving home for work. For instance, everyday he would kiss my brother and me goodbye before he would leave the house. Though it seems quite trivial, this was very important to our father. There were times when he was in a rush and had forgotten to say goodbye to us. He would get down from the car and walk back up the stairs to kiss us good bye. I think my father was specially attached to me, maybe because I was his first-born. He had a picture of him holding me as a baby which he would carry with him inside his chest pocket wherever he went out. It might sound a little silly to many, but my father claimed that he had chest pains if he did not have the photograph and was unable to work or concentrate! One day, my father went to attend a convention in China and forgot to take the photograph with him. He called my mother

Nitun Kundu with wife Falguni Kundu and Amity Kundu as a baby

and made her courier it to China. By the time the photograph reached China, my father had moved on to another country for yet another seminar. The photograph kept on following him all over the world till he finally got hold of it!"

His works and creations speak of the perseverance, passion and the spirit of freedom. He held these beliefs within him until his last breath. Some of his many awards include the Jatiyo Chitrakala Award in 1965 and the Ekushey Padak in 1997. To date, Kundu has had four solo exhibitions. Remembering Nitin Kundu and his determination to do something new, different and progressive, many of his paintings and woodcarvings are being exhibited in the Bengal Shilpalaya in Dhanmondi. The display began on the artist's 72th Birth Anniversary on December 3 and will go on until December 17. The exhibition was officially launched by Kundu's long-time friend and fellow artist Qayyum Chowdhury.

Nitin Kundu is an icon for not only struggling young artists, but also for all those who want to make a difference in their own way. Kundu lived life to the fullest and worked hard to make his dreams come true -- simple attributes and virtues of life that everyone tries hard to follow. Kundu had begun as the boy next door, developed a whole empire for himself and eventually made the pages of history. A story of a legend indeed -- one which we can all learn from and remember as one of the visionaries of Bangladesh.


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