I was shocked to see Pablo. Well, if you know him as Picasso, that's your shortcoming, rather your admittance of not being on first names with perhaps the world's most multi-talented painter. Neither of us wins because his name is Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.
He was shivering despite the July heat. Every time he wiped moisture from his balding head, he looked about nervously, head straight, the eyeballs doing the spectator in a tennis match.
His problem was twofold. Firstly, he could not draw Bangabandhu as passionately as a fifth grader. Secondly, his straight lines generate figures that are a distortion of reality, akin to, some may say childlike doodles.
One of the most gifted artists in the history of mankind, despite his notoriety, Pablo can no longer draw a human face that looks real. Acclaimed worldwide, including by French actress Brigitte Bardot when she was 21 and he 75, Pablo never imagined his cubist talent of disfiguring human figures could be rebuked and called to court.
He feared the worst. Would some pseudo connoisseur of the art world file a lawsuit for his oil on canvas “Girl with the Mandolin” (1910) because Ms. Fanny Tellier is distorted? He does not have Tk 5 crore. Would a bhua bhokto of music be upset to see “The Three Musicians” (1921) as no one is recognisable? Will the judge start howling seeing “The Weeping Woman” (1937) because a child could do a better job?
Artists are simple people, usually. Pablo was terrified that an ambitious, greedy, fortune-seeking politician might use even the oil of his painting to butter up the high-ups. Would a judge take the case of disfigurement into cognisance? Would the police handle Pablo like a common criminal? They can occasionally be brutal deliberately in their show of loyalty. How would the master of interpenetrative geometrical forms draw if he were to be handcuffed?
Knowing his early dexterity in painting realist portraits, the plaintiff politician and the judge asked Pablo Picasso to do a portrait of Bangabandhu so that they could prove how distorted the child drew. But, Pablo's painting of his mother 1896 (drawn when he was 15) was not real enough, no naturalist representational painter is, not even the works of traditionalist guru, the Frenchman William Bouguereau. And that's why he was shaking. How can he explain to those who remain unenlightened despite having university degrees and responsible appointments?
One of the problems with our educational regime is that all degrees follow a straight line, even peeping left or right is considered taboo and unnecessary. A vast storehouse of information on one theme, albeit relevant to a degree, is fed to a student with very little time allowed for free thinking.
Generally, a student of law hardly wanders beyond the books of jurisprudence. Most engineers graduate without feeling the pulse of the society in which they will work. The medical practitioner seldom has the scope to realise that there is a life beyond the duty to save lives.
This situation is much due to our higher level education being offered as centric packages, with students almost never encouraged to tread on to other subject matters, even adjacent overlapping patches of knowledge. In the so-called universal education, the “learned” academic acquires knowledge to a certain extent in a particular polarised field without any mix of thoughts or activities that the real world is made of.
The faculty of independent thinking is nipped at primary level, in which stage the child has to write an answer, solve arithmetic or draw a scenery exactly as the teacher showed in class, otherwise the ten-year old gets a zero even if the answer was to the point. We have all seen all too helplessly children devastated because they partook in the exam as shown by Dad or Mom, but the teacher was not impressed, or knew only to go by the book. No prizes for innovation; that is too much hard work for the teacher.
Another major problem in Bangladesh, in a good number of instances, to practice politics, all one needs are materialistic desire, baseless aspiration, and loads of idle money. Pablo knows that. The more desperate candidates, of course, choose the oily path, which the politician and judge found only too slippery.
Being narrow law students, the complainant and the deliverer of justice, seemingly did not know a square from a circle, a Shakib from a Messi, or that there are shades other than black and white. Due to their constricted educational background, all they understood was that with the connivance of others equally introverted they could gang up on this government officer because their common enemy seemed to have made a slip—printed a card with (distorted) Bangabandhu drawn by a child girl. The conspirators, fanned by their godfathers, obviously had an issue with the Upazilla executive officer because he was following the right path.
Does their lack of information absolve them from their responsibilities as a citizen? Not really, because people with much lesser formal education did not feel that a child's painting was abusive or disrespectful to the Father of the Nation. As for Bangabandhu, he would have in all probability rewarded the child painter for her talent, innocence and patriotism.
Personally I am put to shame because I was born in that historical town several scores ago. We share honours with the likes of Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, Rupashi Bangla poet Jibanananda Das, Bir Shreshta Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir, poet Sufia Kamal, singer Manabendra Mukherjee, magician Jewel Aich, TV personality Hanif Sanket...the list goes on.
Despite our array of glorious townsfolks, it worries me to a nairkel that the Barishailla tag may come to mean uneducated, uncouth, and uncivilised, unless we put a stop to such blatant misuse of rights and privileges. By the way, the nefarious practice is rampant in almost every other district.
As for the perpetrators of the conspiracy, the legal case, the judgement, the unlawful mistreatment of an officer, their collective notion about oil is limited to the edible kind and that which is applied to gain notches in the already slippery ladder to undeserved prosperity; obviously not extending to include a work of art. But they will go down in history as the first persons to be officially reprimanded for oiling.
Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.