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Subodh: Special message or protest?

  • Published at 11:20 pm October 17th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:32 am October 18th, 2017
Subodh: Special message or protest?
“Subodh tui paliyey ja ekhon shomoy pokkhey na/Tor bhaggey kichhu nei” (Flee Subodh, time is not on your side/Nothing is written in your fate). “Subodh tui paliye ja/ Bhuleo fire asis na” (Flee Subodh/ Don’t even return by mistake). Such ominous warnings have started appearing as mysterious graffiti on the walls of Dhaka’s streets over the last few months. People have encountered the strange street art – depicting a man running with a caged sun – at Agargaon, Mohakhali and Old Airport areas. The security agencies, however, are still in the dark about the people or person behind this “Subodh” graffiti. In its latest appearance, the Subodh series was recently daubed on a street wall of Old Airport on the Agargaon-Mohakhali Link Road. One graphic shows a caged sun hanging on a wire waiting to come out, while a rooster chuckles looking at the sun, indicating a rising sun. Beside this graffiti, another artwork depicts a girl sitting with a man with the question inscribed: “Subodh, kobe hobe bhor?” (Subodh, when will dawn break?) Intelligence agencies and detectives are becoming more serious about finding the creator of this series, according to several officials of country’s intelligence agencies who all sought anonymity. They said an intelligence team has already started an investigation to locate the graffiti artist, assuming the graffiti to be anti-government. Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Deputy Commissioner (Media) Masudur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune: “We have heard about such types of mysterious wall-writing and are trying to collect information about its secretive creator.” The graffiti has generated a mixed reaction among Dhaka residents. Some said these are protests of socio-political instability in the country while some assumed that a group is trying to give a special message to the masses. The Dhaka Tribune found such graffiti on street walls of different areas in the capital, displaying a scrawny and bearded man rushing light towards the dark. Posts on social media have compared the creator of the graffiti with Banksy, the famous (but anonymous) UK-based graffiti artist and political activist. The images were created using stencil graffiti and spray paint, a method well-known to Banksy. But this correspondent found that the handwriting that appears with the graffiti did match handwriting that accompanied another. This indicates the graffiti was made by a group of people. Besides, the bigger size of the graffiti also pointed towards the graffiti being painted on at night during the absence of law enforcers. The colour of the sun is also not the same on the graffiti. The cage-locked sun was sometimes coloured red, and sometimes yellow. The artwork is signed off with another enigmatic message: HOBEKI? (Will it happen?) A #HOBEKI was also found on every graffiti with centre of the letter “O” filled up in black. Security specialist Brigadier General (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain said: “It’s almost certain that a special message was given in the graffiti. But what this message is is not clear to people.” Another security expert, Major General (retd) Abdur Rashid, thinks that a group backed by a political party might carry out such a task as a trick to instill fear among the common people. For Bangladesh, the wall has always been a canvas for art. Since British rule and throughout the Pakistani regime and the military rule of Bangladesh, the writings on the wall have always been a harbinger of change spearheaded by the scions of a generation. People began talking about the Subodh series graffiti in February, when it was seen on a wall across the headquarters of the National Meteorological Department, next to the Old Airport. The second graffiti was found on the wall of Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Government Boys’ High School nearby.  The third was found near Purobi Cinema Hall in Mirpur 7. Since April, many more of the Subodh drawings have appeared in different parts of Dhaka city’s street walls of Old Airport at Tejgaon, Dhanmondi and outside of Dhaka University as well. The graffiti has been well-received by a generation weary of the gratuitous toil of Dhaka life. The young can relate the graffiti to the plights they experience on a daily basis, while the more aged audience found a reason to reminisce about the campaigns from their youth. Aminul Hasan Litu, secretary member of the Mangal Shobhajatra and Folk Culture Research and Expansion Centre, remarked that the Subodh graffiti are quite different from the graffiti his generation had known in the ‘80 and the ‘90s. Litu said the early graffiti existed only within and around the Dhaka University premises, mostly done by students of Fine Arts or political activists. He considers Subodh as a symbol of the political and social reality in Bangladesh today. He believes Subodh is waiting for the opportune moment and the caged sun represents positive thinking lying in wait – a manifestation of the urban hope in 2017. Litu, who is an organiser of the first Mangal Shobhajatra and a graduate from the Department of Fine Arts at Dhaka University, said the anguish in the messages refer to the poison that has seeped into society and the oppression of minorities. He asked: “Can Subodh run away? Can I run away? Where do we run to?” The earliest photos of the graffiti surfaced on Facebook, taken by a number of citizens who were enchanted by the stencil art. Sometime later, a page was opened on Facebook under the name of HOBEKI, which is the signature of the graffiti. Queries made to the page have not been responded to, however. In addition, a recently-released film “Bhoyonkor Sundor” directed by Animesh Aich used the graffiti for promotion and elicited criticism. Subodh is not to be commercialised, many protested. Aroma Dutta, a Dhaka-based social activist, believes Subodh is the embodiment of the plight of the minorities. She said: “Subodh, you better leave your motherland fast, because you have zero scope of doing anything with your life. There is no security and you can expect nothing from this state.” Aroma expressed her disappointment with how minorities are continuously being marginalised in the country and steadily losing their right and will to speak up for themselves. She said she found Subodh to be the epitome of hopelessness. Journalist Tushar Abdullah posed the question in his op-ed for the Bangla Tribune of why Subodh needs to run: “He may indeed want to run. He is an ordinary day-labourer. He has to work hard.” The writer continued: “As he lands in the streets he finds public transport not working because of the strikes carried out by the powerful transport owner/staff/driver syndicate. They raise fares at will. If you resist, they will push you out of the bus. Protesting will cause them to call for strike again. How can Subodh live in this anarchy?” Subodh is a typically Hindu name. Hindus make up around 12% of the total population in Bangladesh, so some observers have been associating the artwork with discrimination against and harassment of minority Hindus in Bangladesh, international news media Global Voice reported. But Subodh is not the first time graffiti artwork bearing a troubling but unexplained message on Dhaka’s walls. In the 1990s, graffiti consisting of a single sentence was regularly seen in the Dhaka University campus area. The graffiti read: “Koshte Achhe Aijuddin” (Aijuddin is in pain). Recently, the same graffiti has appeared at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India, the Telegraph reported. But the artwork there only has the sun and cage. The cage door is ajar and the sun has almost floated out. Some birds in flight have been added with the caption: “Subodh tui chhoriye ja, paliye jaoya tor dharma noy” (Spread out, Subodh, fan out. Running away is not in your nature). Its creator, a 2016 graduate of the Chemical Engineering department at Jadavpur University, Somakraj Banerjee, told the Telegraph: “The Dhaka series tried to appeal to one's hopelessness. We wanted to appeal to hope.” Students of Presidency University in Bangalore and Jadavpur university in Kolkata have adapted HOBEKI’s Subodh to “voice their issues and fight their fights”, the Telegraph reported. The walls outside Presidency University's Baker Building are a reddish-black smudge. Only one wall has a Subodh artwork on it at the time of writing this article – a human figure clutching at a branch with one hand and the caged sun in the other. The Bengali sentence below it read: Subodh tokey thamte hobei/Hemanta aranye aante hobei Basanta” ( Subodh you have to stay/In a bare, bare land you have to herald spring). The Telegraph report read: “Jadavpur University student Pratik Karmakar in his Facebook post said that Subodh has appeared on the walls of the TT room of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology Students’ Union. The slogan said ‘Subodh tui lorey ja, aaposh tokey manay na’ (Keep fighting, Subodh).”
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