These four ricksha paintings were commissioned by my friend and colleague, Mary Frances Dunham. Mary, with her family, lived in Dhaka in the sixties and returned in 1992 or 93. Her architect husband, Daniel Dunham, was well-known as the designer of, among other things, the Kamlapur RR Station in Dhaka and the Library at Rajshahi University. She took a liking to ricksha art and shared a few family photos with the artist Alauddin, whom she located at his house in Old Dhaka. Expats often asked ricksha artists to paint personal pictures from photos. The Dunhams, who were active in Dhaka academic and social life during all of the 1960s, heard of only two other instances of such commissions, both subsequent to theirs.
The four panels shown here were photographed as tacked (non-chronologically) on poster board by Mary Frances’ daughter, Katharine. Alauddin signed the first three in Roman script, the last in Bangla.
Starting with the first (dated 1961) of the four panels, some of the figures were Mary Frances’ idea of generic ricksha paintings. Her list of items for the painter to include: a railroad train, the Taj Mahal, paired swans, and a typical Bengali house. The river, the soldier and woman on either shore, were the artist's choice. [My reading of this picture is that it signifies a longing of the artist for good will between India (the woman in a sari and the Taj) and Pakistan (the soldier). JK] Dhaka in 1961 was part of East Pakistan. Bangladesh came ten years later.
Painting no. 2: 1992/93. The Dunham family. Mary says: "Dan and I, the children Katharine and Steve, all lived together in a 2 room flat on a third floor of a house whose owner was kind enough to move out of one of his own rooms on the same floor so that we could all live together. We were also allowed to use the roof, as in this picture. Dan loved plants wherever we lived. Steve is doing his music (did we have a piano??? certainly not on the roof!) and studied tabla during that year. Kath is designing hostels for garment factory worker women and I’m on my dear bike transport. An ayah (which we didn't have) is hanging the laundry, which our bearer of all trades did. I may have specified the high rise buildings which were growing fast around our once bucolic area."
Painting no. 3: ca. 1968. Dunham family. Mary says, "This one contains more personal material from the photos that I brought to the artist: Dan lounging and served by a bearer (my blond Dan portrayed with black hair (of course!); Katharine looking mature for age 3 or 4 and the ayah, the mali with a mower-- that we never had or ever saw in Dhaka; myself at the harpsichord on a kind of stage of the artist's imagination; the outdoor grill with cooks, and the usual airplane."
Painting no. 4: possibly 1966. Mary describes the creation of this panel:“This time, I specified (to Alauddin) items from our life. I wanted the “Chu Chin Chow" Chinese restaurant on Topkhana Road, the only foreign restaurant for an outing in those days (demised long since), the DIT building to represent the then modern architecture, and our own house on Siddheswari Road. And what is going on with me and the restaurant owner and waiter? I don't know what the leafy arch and lady are about." Mary, Kath, and Dan are in the background in front of their house. The mortar fire, rabbit hunting, and men in a boat were the artist's choice, she says.
[In 1965 there was a brief war between India and W. Pakistan. The mortar fire might be a notice of this six week war. JK]