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Why Is the ‘Banksy of Bangladesh’ Asking Someone Called Subodh to Run Away?

“Subodh, please run away, your luck's run out”. Image of art from the Subodh series. Used with permission. No one knows who painted it. Via Hobe ki's Facebook Page.

The graffiti started to appear a few month ago in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka. Suddenly people found examples of strange street art in the Agargaon borough depicting a man running with a cage and a sun trapped inside it. Accompanying the images was an ominous warning: “Subodh, run; your luck's run out.”

Similar graffiti emerged in a number of other areas of Dhaka in the months that followed. People started to share the images on Facebook and so they soon seemed to be everywhere. But nobody has said who might be painting the images and why. The artwork is signed off with another enigmatic message: Hobe ki? (Will it happen?).

Many on social media are comparing 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. The ‘Subodh series’ also features political messages.

Rubayed Mehedy Anik wrote on Facebook:

“সুবোধ তুই পালিয়ে যা”
গ্রাফিটি গুলো কে বা কারা করেছেন, জানি না। হয়তো কখনোই জানবো না, জানা হবে না!
সারাজীবন Banksy'র গ্রাফিটি দেখে যে ছেলেটা ঘুম নষ্ট করেছে, তার কাছে সুবোধের আবেদন যে কোনখানে, বোঝানো যাবে না।
“সুবোধ” যার বা যাদের হাত ধরেই আসুক, ভালোবাসা রইলো।

“Subodh, please run away.”
I don't know who created this graffiti, maybe (we) will never know.
Those who have grown up seeing Banksy's graffiti would surely appreciate the Subodh series.
My love to the creator, whoever that may be.

“Subodh, please run away. Time is not on your side”. Image of art from the Subodh series. Used with permission.

Is Subodh economically marginalised?

Why does the creator of the graffiti want Subodh to run away? Many have contemplated that the artist may be trying to reflect on the social, economic and political crisis in the country.

Journalist Tushar Abdullah wrote in an op-ed for the Daily Bangla Tribune:

সুবোধ কেন পালাবে? পালাতে চাইতেই পারে সে। সাধারণ খেটে খাওয়া মানুষ সে। তাতে রুজির জন্য পথে নামতে হয়। পথে নামামাত্র তাকে জিন্মি হয়ে পড়তে হয় পরিবহন শ্রমিক-চালক-মালিকের স্বেচ্ছাচারিতার কাছে। যখন যেমন খুশি ভাড়া আদায়। ইচ্ছে করলে বাসে তুলবে, আবার গলা ধাক্কা দিয়ে নামিয়েও দেবে। প্রতিবাদ করলে ধর্মঘট। সুবোধ এই স্বেচ্ছাচারিতার মধ্যে বাঁচে কী করে? রোগ-বালাই নিয়ে হাসপাতালে ছুটতে হয়। সেখানে আবার চিকিৎসক-নার্স-ওয়ার্ড বয়ের দৌরাত্ব। সেই দৌরাত্ব সইবার পরেও যদি ঠিকঠাক চিকিৎসা মিলতো তাহলে মনকে বোঝানো যায়। সেখানে আবার ডাক্তারে ভেজাল, ওষুধে ভেজাল, রোগ নির্নয়ের রকমারি পরীক্ষায় ভেজাল।[…]

Why does Subodh need to run? He may indeed want to run. He is an ordinary day-laborer. He has to work hard. As he lands in the street he finds public transport is 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 strike again. How can Subodh live in this anarchy? He goes to the hospital for treatment. He sees that the Doctor/Nurse/Ward-boy syndicate is dominant there. If you could at least get the treatment you desire, you would ignore them. But there are issues such as fake doctors, fake and out-of-date medicines and discrepancies in pathological testing [..]

“Subodh is now in jail. A sense of guilt is residing inside people's hearts.” Image of art from the Subodh series. Used with permission.

Is Subodh a victim of inter-communal strife?

Subodh is a typically Hindu name. Hindus make up around 12% of the total population in Bangladesh. So naturally, some have been associating the artwork with discrimination against and harassment of minority Hindus in Bangladesh.

Arifur Sabuj wrote on Facebook:

সুবোধ, এটা ৯০ শতাংশ মুসলমানের দেশ। এখানে ফতোয়া দিয়ে বিচার করেন শফি হুজুররা। ন্যায় বিচার, লেডি জাস্টিস এসবের এখানে কাজ কি?
তুই পালিয়ে যা সুবোধ, তাতেই মঙ্গল।

Subodh, This is a country with (almost) 90% Muslims. Here religious right wingers like Shafi Hujur prevail with Fatwas (religious rulings) [Author's note: Bangladesh does not have Sharia law. But religious right wing parties try to impose Fatwas regarding many issues]. Rule of law, Lady Justice – why should you mourn all this? Please run away Subodh, your welfare depends on it.

Renowned poet Shamshur Rahman once wrote a poem titled “Sudhanshu will not go” which touched on the issues of Hindu minorities migrating to neighboring India because of abuse by majority Muslims.

Many think that the Subodh series was influenced by that particular poem:

পাগলামী করিসনে বন্ধু সুধাংশু
সময় যে পার হয়ে যাচ্ছে
এবার যে তোর পালানোর বেলা
জিদ করিসনে বন্ধু, এখনই তুই পালা। [..]
কোথায় সেই রামী, শেপু, কাকলী আরও সেই প্রিয় বন্ধুগুলা
ওরা যে সবাই পালিয়েছে, এবার তোর পালা।

Please don't be mad Sudhanshu, my friend
Time is running out
Now it's your time to run away
Please don't think otherwise, now you go. [..]
Where are Rami, Shepu, Kakoli and our other dear friends?
They have all left, now it's your turn.

“Subodh please run away, time is not on your side. Humans have forgotten how to love.” Image of art from the Subodh series. Used with permission.

On Facebook, Kazi Rukshana Ruma claimed Subodh as “representative of Bangladesh”:

সুবোধ তুই পালিয়ে যা। এখন সময় পক্ষে না'। এই সুবোধই এখন বাংলাদেশের প্রতিনিধি। বেকারত্বের প্রতিনিধি, অর্ধেক জনগোষ্ঠীর প্রতিনিধি। শুভ বোধের প্রতিনিধি। মুসলিম ধর্ম ছাড়া অন্য যে কোন ধর্ম, বর্ণ, গোত্রের প্রতিনিধি। বুকের মধ্যে জ্বলজ্বল করা সূর্যটাকে খাঁচায় পুড়ে যে শুধুই ছুটে বেড়ায়। দেখি আর দম বন্ধ করা কান্না আমাকে ছিঁড়ে খুঁড়ে খায়। শুধু মনে মনে বলি ‘ভাগ মিলখা ভাগ, সুবোধ পালিয়ে যা'। কিন্তু কোথায়??????????????

“Subodh, please run away. Time is not on your side”. This Subodh is representative of Bangladesh at the present time. He is the representative of the unemployed and the marginalized people. He is the representative of good sense. He is the representative of other races and religions other than Muslim. He runs with a cage with a glowing sun trapped inside. I watch this and feel an overwhelming emotion, a fear for his future. I say to myself “Run, baby run, Subodh please run away.” But where???????

Hobeki? (Will it happen?) – From the Subodh series graffiti. Used with permission.

This is not the first time Dhaka has witnessed a spate of graffiti bearing a troubling but unexplained message.

In the 1990s, graffiti consisting of a single sentence was regularly seen in the Dhaka University campus area. The graffiti read: “Aijuddin is in pain.”

6 comments

  • sharmin rahman

    Shubodh is not a person; It is Shu-bodh, shu-chinta, shubho-chinta. It is a concept; personification of good-thinking, good-intent, sense, reason, compassion, empathy. In the graffiti series, Shubodh is seen running away and while running away, he is carrying the glowing, blazing sun trapped in a cage, along with him. The sun here, is truth, energy and source of life. The artist mourns the ever decaying, ever rotting, sensitivity and thoughtfulness of our city and community.

    The artist urges Shubodh to run away as neither time nor luck is in his favor. In one graffiti, it is written that the thought of sin inhabits/paapbodh within people and shows shubodh/good-thinking/good-intent locked behind bars. The sign off often says hobe ki? – in the hope to turn things for better, to initiate and to step up to free the sun.

    This series is a by far the truest depiction of our collective lives and the most vivid reflection of our insensitive-vegetable-like state of mind, in pop art.

    – my thoughts, my interpretation. you are free to think and entitled interpret the way you want to.

    • Thanks for the excellent interpretation Sharmin.

    • Sudipto

      Thanks a lot for the apt and beautiful explanation. Should have been part of the article !

    • Aninda Kabir

      As I was going through the article the same interpretation popped in my head also. “Shubodh” = “Shubho Bodh” = Good-thoughts/intentions. I am quite sure it has nothing to do with religion.

      Thanks.

  • ifraz

    It would not be wise to comment and color SUBODH as the representative of any section or religions of the world nor even the name of any person.. To me ,’HOBEKI’ is the secret name of the Artist who may be a male or female and SHUBODH means Good,Honest or Holy Senses of every human beings of the world . Great Artist indeed also more powerful then banksy!

  • Najibur Rahaman Mallick

    The humanity were leave from the men

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