Bangladesh: Of a flower that keeps the garden colourful in all seasons

Bangladesh’s culture is diverse and finds expression in ways that give Bangladesh its unique personality; like the history, local traditions, the cuisine, the people’s love for performing arts. People of Bangladesh have a great tradition of art, music, dance and drama and the likes of them.


by Anwar A. Khan

“She is like a flower; strong but weak like water droplets;
and a tear falls down her cheek. She is like a flower that
lights up our day, but when the wind blows like petals, she
floats away. A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and
man cannot live without love.” -Max Muller

( January 7, 2018, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) She is like a flower; a red-rose or a beli-flower or a krishnachura flower or a sunflower or any other charming flower which can spread good fragrance all around. In fact, she is the true embodiment of the Bengali culture that exists between Bangladesh’s nature and its people. She was born on March 15, 1953 and hails from Munshigonj District, Bangladesh. She was a student of deserving reward or praise all through her life of education. “Art is fundamental, unique to each of us…Even in difficult economic times – especially in difficult economic times – the arts are essential” as said by Maria Shriver and these are true in case of a cultural personality like her of Bangladesh. She works surreptitiously because she loves to keep a very low profile.

She joined the Dhaka University History Department as First Year Honours and M.A. student during 1972-76 batch. Like a mythological virgin teen-aged girl of incomparable beauty whose different limbs  seemed to be made by Vishwakarma, the heavenly artisan, by taking bits from all that were most beautiful in the universe; a girl who was then a paragon of beauty; a model of excellence or perfection of a kind; one having no equal.  She joined us in the same class of the same year. A lean and thin but short girl with an extremely bright face used to come to the DU Campus wearing sky blue sarees and a special thick powerful sky blue spectacle with an elaborate and remarkable display on a lavish scale. She walked with serenity in very slow and soundless steps with always a calm exposure and with a face of showing happiness, friendliness or optimism. Sharply in ready-witted; subtly diplomatic combined with intellectual finesse, she can wander in diverse fields of knowledge for an instant or moment. During the Dhaka University days, she was very active in all cultural activities. She was very attentive to her studies also. She did her M.A. in Contemporary History with B.A. (Hons.) with distinction in the year of 1976. She attained a strong mastery on classical dancing and in acting in dramas as a perfect heroine; silent but foremost artiste, especially in Rabindra Sangeet, attained strong writing skills of poems and articles, essays; a very good reciter of poems and presenter of programmes before she got admitted into the Dhaka University.

Life is like a flower. You don’t realise how beautiful it really is until you take a closer look. Now we are moving from the darkness into the light; and this is the defining moment of our lives because she is beautiful like a flower more valuable than a diamond. She is powerful like a fire. She can heal the world with her mind. There is nothing in the world that she cannot do when you believe in her, who is beautiful; who is brilliant; who is powerful; and who is resilient. This song is for you and for her.

She is like a flower, a flower that gives us a smile; a smile that enlightens our inner souls. She is the one with whom we can share our sorrows and joys. Her company is like sweet fragrance of a flower, a fragrance that freshens us. She is the one whose love is desirable for us. Her each care about us is like an each petal of a flower, a care that we love the most. She is the one who motivates us in every sphere of life. Her presence is like a colour of flower, a presence that brightens us. She is the one who is everything for us. She is like a flower… Soft and spoken is she, her beautiful smile; oh how she completes us. She smells so sweet, and the scent will always follow her feet.

As she was a keen-edged student having vast knowledge in diversified fields of educations, arts, cultures and so forth, the national arts and culture expertise have been her core qualities which are inherent in her inner soul; she worked tirelessly and have been labouring with indefatigable energy for the performing arts of the country. But she loves to hide something like unspeakable sadness under the cloak of her gentle smiles. Her initiatives aimed at diversifying leadership, staff, artists, and audiences; programming that reflects a variety of cultural perspectives, celebrates artists from underrepresented communities, or has strong historical ties to specific regions; ambitious artistic work and capacity building by culturally specific and of national performing arts and culture.

Bangladesh’s culture is diverse and finds expression in ways that give Bangladesh its unique personality; like the history, local traditions, the cuisine, the people’s love for performing arts. People of Bangladesh have a great tradition of art, music, dance and drama and the likes of them. The Bengalis are musical people and Bangladesh has a great and diverse music scene. It is a melancholic type of music that tells different stories of life. The country also has a great tradition for traditional dance, and especially during the many festivals in which she excels and distinguishes oneself. Her arts and cultural heritage programmes seek to nurture exceptional creative accomplishment, and conservation practices in the arts, while promoting a diverse and sustainable ecosystem for these disciplines. Alongside her continued commitments to exemplary programmes in the performing arts, art history, and conservation, new areas and strengthened emphasis include: to provide a professional, disciplined, and supportive atmosphere where students of all levels can succeed in obtaining a Performing Arts education. Her goal is to teach dance, music, and theatre as well as an appreciation of each. This is why; she maintains a deep commitment to the highest standards of excellence in Arts Education and she confidently says all the time and on every occasion: “Performing arts is something I am always part of. That may be the only common thread that ran throughout my education, throughout my school, college and university years as well as till date.”

She has created herself with a singular goal: to teach dance, music, theatre…to children and young adults…in a warm, friendly and encouraging environment. Her students feel at home with their teachers, which creates a positive learning environment. She thinks like Jarod Kintz: “I love like a leaf in the wind. Please, hold your applause until the end of the performance, the last day of fall.” Her mission is to provide an academically challenging education for creatively gifted students. Enhanced performing arts training will empower students with the practical skills for higher education and/or a professional career in the arts. Her unique teaching philosophy strives to incorporate the arts into all educational areas by integrating curriculum and by interaction with professionals from the arts industry. It is like as if Paul G. Allen says : “In my own philanthropy and business endeavours, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities….the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.” The strength of every democracy is measured by its commitment to the arts. “I love the performance of a craft, whether it is modest or mean-spirited, yet I walk away when discussions of it begin – as if one should ask a gravedigger what brand of shovel he or she uses or whether he or she prefers to work at noon or in moonlight. I am interested only in the care taken, and those secret rehearsals behind it taking place” which was expressed by Michael Ondaatje.

She believes that arts education in music, theater, dance, and the visual arts is one of the most creative ways we have to find the gold that is buried just beneath the surface. The children have an enthusiasm for life a spark of creativity, and vivid imaginations that need training – training that prepares them to become confident young men and women. She used to say : “Arts education aids students in skills needed in the workplace: flexibility, the ability to solve problems and communicate, the ability to learn new skills, to be creative and innovative, and to strive for excellence.” The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…music, dance, painting, and theater are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment. The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure. About the arts Pablo Picasso said aright: ”The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” She does not forget while teaching her students what Lyndon Johnson once said :“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage; for it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Aeschylus and Plato are remembered today long after the triumphs of Imperial Athens are gone. Dante outlived the ambitions of thirteenth century Florence. Goethe stands serenely above the politics of Germany, and we are certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit. “The creative arts are the measure and reflection of our civilisation. They offer many children an opportunity to see life with a larger perspective…The moral values we treasure are reflected in the beauty and truth that is emotionally transmitted through the arts. The arts say something about us to future generations” was correctly spelt out by Ann P. Kahn and her cultural life is entwined with that spirit. Pyramids, cathedrals, and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture– literally a vision–in the minds of those who built them. Society is where it is today because people had the perception; the images and the imagination; the creativity that the Arts provide, to make the world the place we live in today.  An Arab Proverb can be remembered in this context: “If you have only two pennies, spend the first on bread and the other on hyacinths for your soul” because the arts are not a frill. The arts are a response to our individuality and our nature, and help to shape our identity. What is there that can transcend deep difference and stubborn divisions? The arts! They have a wonderful universality. Art has the potential to unify. It can speak in many languages without a translator. The arts do not discriminate. The arts can lift us up. A fine work of art – music, dance, painting, and story – have the power to silence the chatter in the mind and lift us to another place.

Like Plato, she might have believed: “Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”  Whoever has skill in music is of good temperament and fitted for all things. We must teach music in schools. Music education opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them – a world of work, culture, intellectual activity, and human involvement. The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music. Music washes away from the soul; the dust of everyday life. It is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart. She believes in the maxim of : “Politicians don’t always bring people together. Artists do.” Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us. In the words of Bono : “Music can change the world because it can change people.” Music in the soul can be heard by the universe. Where words fail, music speaks. Plato’s words are also of immense significance when he said : “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” That’s why; music is so much beloved to her.

Theatre or drama is of special importance to her and she thinks in the light that sheds by Stella Adler : “The theatre is a spiritual and social X-ray of its time.” The best thing about the term ‘performance artist’ is that it includes just about everything you might want to do.  Performing art is about joy, about making something that’s so full of kind of a wild joy that one really can’t put into words. “All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper. That’s what makes theatre live. That’s why it persists” has been competently emphasised by Stephen Sondheim. Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is not mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself. The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs. Dance drama brings actors before a public and every night during the season they re-enact the same drama. Deep in the nature of dance drama is a sense of ritual. Like Ingrid Bergman, she likes as if to say : “If you take dance drama or theatre or acting away from me, I’d stop breathing.” Dance involves every possible feeling as potential, because it is of the body, which is lived inescapably as a body of feeling. Some of these feelings we can name, and some we cannot, since we associate feelings with language only when we name them. The body lives sentience on a preverbal level. Dance exists first on this primordial level, not on an intellectual plane even though it requires skill and intelligence. Its inmost substance cannot be reasoned, only experienced. W.M. Tory has aptly said : “The dance is over, the applause subsided, but the joy and feeling will stay with you forever.”

She started her service career in 1979 after joining the Arts of Dancing Department of Shilpakola Academy being a Danseuse, Dance Master, Dance Director, Poetry Recitor and Presenter of similar nature of programmes.  As many a wise person said, “Teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible.” So, in 1981, she joined in teaching profession in BCS Education Cadre. “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit” as she always speaks.

In music or drama or dance drama or in acting, the punctuation is absolutely strict, the bars and the rests are absolutely defined. But our punctuation cannot be quite strict, because we have to relate it to the audience. In other words, we are continually changing the score. The world is her stage, Bangladesh is her green room. Great Historian George Santayana once said :“The wonder of an artist’s performance grows with the range of her/ his penetration, with the instinctive sympathy that makes her/him, in her/his mortal isolation, considerate of other men’s fate and a great diviner of their secret, so that his/her work speaks to them kindly, with a deeper assurance than they could have spoken with to themselves” and her world is no exception to it. She is an avid lover of music especially in singing the Tagore songs and like Ernest Boyer, former President, Carnegie Foundation Science and Arts, she believes : “Music gives us a language that cuts across the disciplines, helps us to see connections and brings a more coherent meaning to our world.”  Currently, she is also involved in different literary, cultural and research based organisations of national statures besides national performing arts.  “All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper. That’s what makes dance or dance drama live. That’s why it persists” when said by Stephen Sondheim is also true to her case. She could have outshined all others, be it in education or theatre or music or dance or  dance drama or any other field of national performing arts and the quality of being widely admired, accepted or sought after beyond the boundary of Bangladesh had she not lost the right track. Some sorts of inertia, shyness, false imposition, unjustified fear of losing her power and prestige have sometimes turned her away from persuasion to stay back in her place.

She deeply loves our glorious Liberation War of 1971 and strongly believes in its core spirits and values. That’s why; she did her PhD degree on the thesis under the style of : “Bangladesh’s Nationalist Thought (1947-1971)” from the University of Dhaka in 1996. After serving in several reputed Government Colleges, she went into normal retirement in 2011 at the age of 57 being a full-fledged Professor and Chairperson of History Department of Dhaka College, Bangladesh. She has authored many books and mention of some of them may be made, such as, Prattahoto Prattasha, Conspiracy against Bangla Language & Struggle of the Bengalis, Unshottorer Ognijhora Dinguli. Besides that, many of her short stories, poetry (especially Ponchis Bochorer Khoto-Bikkohotto Bhalobasha) and research based essays/articles; interviews have been published in different Newspapers and Magazines.

A woman is like a flower, to make her bloom you must shower her with tenderness and love. For passion to grow she will need to open the windows of her heart and mind. As a man it is important for to get to know a woman’s essence, her spirit. You than can see and uncover all that she is and will be to you. Who is she really beneath her looks? A woman’s fragrance, her smile, and the way she cares for herself when no one is looking will reveal to all who she is and what she will become to her lover. Men are drawn by the quiet in a woman’s way, the inner person. The way she moves, and the words she chooses to express her love. Beauty’s voice speaks gently: it creeps only into the most awakened souls. She is like the words of Waylon Jennings: “Her beauty cut just like a knife.” She also is an injured bird for her own faults.

She is no one else but our revered educationist and noted cultural figure Prof Dr. Sultana Nigar Chowdhury; a bright silent star in our cultural world; and a flower that keeps the garden colourful in all seasons with her sweet fragrance. She is still a bright woman with exposure of extra-ordinary beauty. She is one of the finest personals and worthy one to occupy any higher position of the nation. In life, like the Greeks, she faced a Homeric dilemma. She is a high-flyer cultural personality with great ability and ambition of considerable prominence.  An uncrowned queen in performing arts, her experience and qualities can give a new sheen to wherever higher position in which she is placed to serve the nation. She has true artistic camaraderie. “Let your performance do the thinking” as said by Charlotte Bronte. She has brought the performing arts like a flower to the world of Bangladesh. Dr. Nigar Chowdhury, in whom performing arts and culture underline life and her patriotism for the country is by right personified. About her, the following lines of a famous poem are veritably germane here:

This stunning symphony of pink blooms is absolutely gorgeous, just like she is!
The beauty of a woman
Is not in the clothes she wears,
The figure that she carries,
Or the way she combs her hair.

The beauty of a woman
Must be seen from her eyes,
Because that is the doorway to her heart,
The place where love resides.

The beauty of a woman
Is not a facial mole
But true beauty in a woman
Is reflected in her soul.

It is the caring she lovingly gives,
The passion that she shows.
The beauty of a woman with passing years —
Only grows and grows.

-The End-

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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