Hashem Khan : The legendary painter of Bangladesh


Tell us about your childhood and the place where you grew up?

I studied in our village school till class six. The name of my village is Sekdi. It’s just near to Chandpur Town. Yearly two or one drama took place in school playground where boys disguised themselves by wearing girl’s costume in order to entertain people and there was a light song named ‘Kobigan’ that was also part of our amusement. So, these things were there as culture. I used to enjoy seeing these in my childhood.

As I grew up in village so I was really fond of playing in the field. Approximately 100% people were farmer in my village. Some of them belonged in well-to-do family and rarely two or three family could be found who did Government job. Still, I can remember they used to go office by cycle and wore hat as a sun protector so that they can save themselves against the sun’s harmful rays. Jokes apart, villagers called them ‘Shaheb’ due to having hat in their head. My father and his friend both studied in Kolkata.

Watching films and drama were an enormous part of our entertainment. My uncle and my elder brother, they came to Chandpur town secretly just to watch films and drama. After watching they shared the stories of films with a great fun. They used to read novels a lot. They read ‘Sarat Chandra and many other Bengali literature. I found ‘Bishadshindhu’ in my mother’s almira. Then, I found ‘Bankim Rachanabali’ there. Though my mother was not that educated but I saw her to read novels a lot. She loved literature. After finishing all the household chores my mother told my sisters to read novels. So, there had been already created a friendly environment for reading at my home. That helped me improving my literacy skills in my early childhood. Seeing my mother’s and my elder brother’s passion for books I started reading ‘Ramer Sumati’ , ‘Boro didi’ while I was in class 4. I started to think like Sarat Chandra’s novels are so popular and everyone love to read it but I felt like crying while reading his novels. May be I was looking for fairy tale or books like ‘Thakur mar Jhuli’ at that time. Since class 4 to class 7, When I was in high school I used to read a lot of books from Bangla literature.

I admitted into the best high school of Chandpur. The school is still there. In British period this school’s name was Hasan Ali Jubilee High School. The School had a wonderful library for the students. That library is still in my mind. Its really appreciable that a small town had such an excellent library. Afterwards, there were numerous collection of books came up into Bangla literature and I got introduced to all of them at my school library. All these books were just amazing but without knowing it’s existing significance I just kept on reading those novels. Gradually I came to know that all of these books were mesmerizing. I read ‘Probashi’, ‘Basumati’. Even there was a newspaper especially for children named ‘Mouchak’. Still I can remember that there was a popular newspaper edited by Rabindranath Tagore, the name of that newspaper was ‘Balaka’.

You’ve seen language movement in 1952. How was your experience? How old were you at that time?

I was in class 7 at that time and I was worried and nervous because I was thinking like, these books are too good to read but aren’t we able to read those anymore in our mother tongue! Urdu literature would be there. Then what about these Bengali literatures? It would be really bad, if we had to learn Urdu. These types of thoughts were coming into my mind and eventually I became restless though I was just a little kid. Mawlana Bhashani came into, he gave speech and I went there to hear that along with one of my big brother. In 1956, Jukto front movement took place and Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq gave his speech towards people though Jukto front movement had been started earlier. In 1956, I passed SSC as well.

Is there any particular reason for which you choose to be an artist?

My elder brother who was very much serious about study where I was a mediocre student. Naturally, parents from small towns or villages usually have dreams to see their children as an Engineer or a Doctor. Similarly, my parents dreamt for me either. Chandpur College was just besides my home. It’s a big college and I was prepared to get admitted into Chandpur College. At that time one of my brother in law Yunus Hossain who was instructor of teachers training college highly appreciated my drawings and he was the first one who advised me to think about Art College. Later on I was inspired by my elder brother. He constantly got worried about my career. However, He knew my love for arts.

Cinema had a great influence on society. People took it very seriously then and loved the idea they got from cinema. At that time, the films based on artists usually showed that Artist suffers terribly or they would have died without eating. As we were many brothers and sisters and my father was the only family member who used to earn. So, financial crisis was a big factor so far. At first, my father told me to get admitted into Chandpur College as it was just near to my home. But why did he suddenly agree in such confusions, to me that is still a matter of wonder. Among my other brothers and sisters I was the only one who never care about any rules and regulations. Since my childhood, I just do what I want to do and from my childhood I was always a man who was very straightforward though my father used to be so strict to us. As I used to read books, so naturally I was very adventurous and I never tell lies to my parents even though I did mistakes. Rather, I felt guilty and confessed the truth to them. I was fearless and confident and I told my father about the desire to be admitted to the art college. My father was worried because I didn’t go Dhaka before. So, I told him that a friend of mine lives in Dhaka. So I will be able to manage. I told him that just to make him convinced.

Tell us about your student life in Art College..

I had to struggle a lot. It was just not the matter of admission but to me it was very much challenging and I have made it possible for me to survive in arts. In Dhaka, I did not have any place to live, I did not have any place to meal. One of my cousin sister was in Dhaka that time. So I searched a lot with the address to stay at their home. My cousin sister, her husband and they had two children. They had only one room, so I had to manage somehow. Even there is no such place in the room where I could put another patrol for me to sleep. There were a teacher and a student who used to be our neighbor at that time. they felt for me a lot. one of them gave me a reading table for use. They helped me with the place to where I could manage to sleep. I was there for 5 years. The study of Arts was so tough at that time. It was quite different from the general college study. Cause, the colors papers and paint brush all these things were so expensive and it was not that easy for me to buy them. Sometimes I got no money for buying a paper and due to having no colors, paper I felt so bad. Since I lived in my sister’s house so, my sister used to bear the cost of my meal. They had two kids and I started looking after the kids. Ultimately, they became so happy to get me as well. Therefore, I was able to manage a place myself as an essential member of that family.

For the Art College, I would come out from the house in the morning. Then had breakfast there, even ate outside at noon though my sister usually waited with the food for me, I used to have dinner at my sister’s place. I never forget those days.

In the 1st year of Art College, I did not have any colors, brush for painting. Colors were so costly so, I could not manage money to buy it. I had only pencils and pens. Tiffin break was at 1.30 pm and after the break I did not go for any other classes. Only because of having no colors I could not go for any classes though I felt for painting. One of my teachers Mahmud Kibria asked me why I am so irregular for the classes. I got no answers for him to say. This is how the first year of Art College has passed.

As there was curiosity in mind and I used to write while studying in school so, since then I had been introduced with some young writers. ‘Kochi Kachar Mela’ organization took place and I went there to participate. Thus I joined there in organizing ‘Kochi Kacher Mela’. After doing classes in Art College I would go to the movement. For the students of Art College, drawing, sketching was a compulsory subject and I used to do a lot of drawing , sketching. Kibria sir often praised me on my drawing. One day Zainul Abedin sir came to see sketches and drawings and after seeing my sketches he said “very nice, you have done so well.”

During my first year final exam my friends helped me with giving papers, colors etc. It was really unforgettable to me. We were 25/26 students who participated for the exam. The result was published and I went in the evening to see it. The gate of the Art College was closed already. Eventually, I requested to the guard for allowing me to see the result. There were two columns. One is for those who passed in the exam, another one is for those who failed. I started to check the second columns for the non-achievers and there were 6 students who failed. I took a long deep breath seeing that I am not one of those 6 people. The guard was asking me if everything is alright or not? Then I looked at the column and the last name of that column was not me either. So I disappointed a bit. I became a little excited and I was thinking like why not this is my name! at least my name should be there. Then I saw my name was shining 19th serial. It’s not like I was so happy seeing my name there but I thought that at least I don’t have to be give any explanations to anyone. So I made a promise myself. For the next four years I have to be in the first position. So, I had to struggle a lot throughout the four years. Not only I just kept on studying on those 4 years but also I learned how to survive as a social person. Actually I got that lesson being a student of Art College.


Zainul Abedin was your teacher. Do you have any noteworthy memory with him that you want to share?

Zainul Abedin was my teacher. I am happy that my paintings were loved by him. He liked my drawings. One of the teachers from Military Academy came to Karachi as an advisor. While he asked about me Zainul Abedin Sir was there and he introduced me as a good organizer. He added that “See , In our Muslim community Art practices have not been able to make any place yet but this boy is organizing for children. He teaches drawing to children. So, when these kids will grow up, they must fill the crises from our society. This guy is doing the movement with paintings.”

There are many more to share about him. One day, in a ceremony Zainul Abedin Sir was presented as a chief guest. There he talked about me again. He said with fun about me that this boy should be punished. So, Dadabhai was a little surprised hearing that. Then Sir said “look! this boy is doing loss of your. As he is doing all the work alone and both of you are here to take me to “Kochi Kachar mela”. So, I said , “Sir, Today we’ve come to take you there and it’s not about today, you have to stay with us. He was very happy hearing this and He was with us till his last breath.

You got Ekushey Padak, we know. If there is anything more to share about your achievement, please let us to know about this.

I got Ekushey Padak and I got Swadhinata Padak as well. I got Ekushey Padak in order to contributing to the painting in our country and I got Swadhinata Padak for the development of culture. That was the first time Prime minister decided that artists should be honored for expanding the culture and art.

I was a member of Education commission in 1997. There I suggest to put arts as a compulsory subject from elementary school to class 10. In Bangladesh, there are many universities and colleges in arts and culture. So if students get art as a subject in schools then it will be very much easier for them to cope up on to take this as a profession.

Suppose, a boy who used to draw in his childhood must think about his country where he belongs. Because he draws tree, bird, and things from his surroundings and then put those in order and adorn with colors. In his 12 inch paper he draws a village, and doing that he thinks about the categorization of the drawing, color pencils. He try to give his best to his papers and keep doing it until it gets perfect. This is how, in his subconscious mind he thinks constantly how to make things beautiful and he is able to spread his confident as well.


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