Abhilash Medhi

Abhilash Medhi (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO): Abhilash was born Assam, India. He earned a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur, India and then worked as an Assistant Systems Engineer with Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai, India. Abhilash also volunteered for Child Rights and You in Mumbai, India where he specialized in child labour laws, helped build alliances against child labour, and developed micro-credit schemes for poor women. Abhilash volunteered at the 2nd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2007). At the time of his fellowship Abhilash was pursuing a Master’s degree in Development Studies at The London School of Economics and Political Science.

Art on-the-move

12 Sep

The following blog, though not related to BERDO, is about an entity that is central to life in Bangladesh (mine included).

They are gaudier than the gaudiest jamdanis, kitschier than the kitschiest Vladimir Tretchikoff and if the fact that they are mass produced nowadays is anything to go by, then they are indeed more Warholesque than Warhol himself. The obvious point of reference here are the rickshaws of Bangladesh. Often the quickest (and greenest) form of transport through the clogged, maze-like streets of Dhaka, these rickshaws also double-up as moving objects of art.

A typical Bangladesh rickshaw

A typical Bangladeshi rickshaw is decorated with myriad embellishments – bright plastic flowers, metal tumblers, tacky streamers and multi-coloured pinwheels are the commonest accessories. Floral motifs and the latest Dhaliwood (when every region of the world has its own ‘wood’, can the Dhaka film-industry be far behind) movie posters are splashed across their vinyl upholstery. Tin-sheets at the rears of the rickshaws are adorned with paintings of movie posters, village scenes, flowers or political personalities.

At one level, rickshaw-art mirrors the undercurrents prevalent in Bangladeshi society. In the more religious south, floral designs are more popular and paintings do not generally contain human forms. The distance that separates the region from Dhaka and its film-industry can be another explanation for this phenomenon. In certain parts, portraits of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and symbols associated with Wahhabist sectarianism have proven to be popular at different times.

The Taj on a lotus - a popular image

The more adorable part of this whole exercise, however, is how most of these paintings are an expression of things that cannot be, or rather are not possible given the present circumstances, in Bangladesh. Village huts often have Ferraris parked outside them. Expensive yachts ply on waterways. The Taj Mahal sits on lotuses. Actors in movie posters are always fair (in fact, a sizeable majority is pink). Exaggerated cleavages are flashed liberally. And vengeful bikini-clad females tote guns in scenes that look like they draw more inspiration from James Hadley Chase novels than from everyday life in Bangladesh.

Posted By Abhilash Medhi

Posted Sep 12th, 2009


  • Owen

    September 14, 2009


    Fascinating. I was at Spitalfields Farm Show on Saturday and the man with the Dhaka cycle rickshaw who attends a lot of the local events in Tower Hamlets was there giving kids rides. The story I heard was that this particular one was originally brought over for the wonderful exhibition of daily life in Bangladesh at the Museum of Mankind (as it then was) in the 1970s. The person I was doing a stall with at the show asked whether they still had the same decorated rickshaws there, and here’s the answer, supplied the day before the question was asked! Thanks for the info, though I’m sorry they’re mass-produced these days.

  • Owen

    September 14, 2009


    Sorry, that should have read, “on Sunday”

    • Abhilash Medhi

      September 15, 2009


      Spitalfields, the Petticoat Lane market and Brick lane are no less fascinating. I can imagine that a Dhaka rickshaw must have felt completely at home there!

  • Owen

    September 18, 2009


    The Farm’s just off Brick Lane, down Buxton Street – such a complete contrast even though they’re next door to one another. There’s a famous Bengali Ladies Gardening Club at the Farm.

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *