Catherine and Tareque Masud — consulting producer and advisor, respectively, for “Threads” — recently released their new film, “Runway.”    Mishuk Munier, who has done filming  for “Threads” in Bangladesh, is the cinematographer for “Runway.”

Congratulations to the Masuds, Mishuk, and all involved on the occasion of the film’s premiere.  We were fortunate to see the film at Catherine and Tareque’s home when we were in Dhaka and agree completely with the very positive response that it has been getting at screenings in various parts of Bangladesh.

Catherine and Tareque are very insightful filmmakers and we wish them great success with this and all of their ventures.

I accompanied Cathy and Len back to the Salesian Sisters’ House in Monipuripara yesterday, without anticipating the treat that was in store for us. After we’d been there a short while, Sister Elisabeth asked if we would like to see the original Surayia scrolls… I think all three of us gasped and went “YES! please!” before Sr. Elisabeth could even complete her sentence. The girls were asked to bring in the wax-paper scrolls, and there they were : each small detail painstakingly hand drawn by the great artist herself. Some of the scrolls are large as the work table, around 5′ x 8′. Surayia’s fine work with attention to the minutest of details [expressions on faces, tiny objects, the veins on the leaves] had us in awe. The free flowing but precise pencil work had us going “look at this bit” and “look how the hands of this person gesture“.

Sister Joseph Mary: Photo by Anil Advani.

Then, on to see Sister Joseph Mary at the Holy Cross School and College nearby. The sun was almost down, the large waxy moon hung behind the massive Rain Tree in the garden. The gate-keeper struck a brass gong loudly once, startling us. This is how they announce visitors for a particular Nun. “One gong” was for Sister Joseph Mary to know that she had visitors. Sister greeted us and we hurried, before it got too dark,  to go look at the carved doors of the Holy Cross Hall which had been designed by Surayia Rahman. First, into the great hall to view the iron work grilles off-set by the deep inky blue evening sky. The massive and solid teak doors are carved with “Shapla” [Lotus, the national symbol of Bangladesh] and “Doel / Doyel” [Magpie Robin, the national bird]. We then proceeded to look at the small original Surayia wood-carving from where the door designs were taken. The room was full of artwork, works of Bangladeshi artists and students of the school and college. An oil painting by Surayia as well….

All along the way; Sister Joseph Mary gave us a running comentary on each piece, who painted it, when it was painted, on what occasion, snippets about the art, her life in Bangladesh….
I probably missed a lot while trying my best to photograph everything as quickly as possible, and to keep with the fast pace! 

Blogged by Anil for KanthaThreads.

Surayia at home in Dhaka. Photo: Anil Advani

With Anil, we went to see Surayia – a much anticipated visit!  Anil had prepared chicken soup the night before and we took some sweets for the girls who are helping her.  The pre-Eid traffic was heavy – Dhaka residents doing their last minute shopping for the holiday, at the cattle markets to select their animals or enroute to their villages to be with family for the four-day break.   After an hour or so, we arrived a Surayia’s home, the incense sticks burning with sweet scent to welcome us.   Surayia was sitting in her hallway – the same hallway in which many women had come to embroider for so many years.  Now it was empty, except for a few chairs for day-time guests and family photographs on the walls.  She looked so beautiful in her white sari and we so enjoyed our three cups of tea with her.  It has been a year since we interviewed her in Toronto, and this was the first time we have seen her since.  We are thankful that Surayia is still alive – so gracious, so humble, so extraordinary.

Showing Surayia clips from the film footage. Photo: Anil Advani

Within moments of our arrival, a former colleague of Len’s from the US Embassy, Firoze, arrived to greet us.  We felt at home immediately.  Then came a knock on the door from Anil Advani. For one year, Anil has been helping us with photography and much more for the documentary, out of the goodness of his heart and his belief in the importance of art and culture and the improvement of lives of the poor.   We met him ‘virtually’ through friends,  and we felt we knew him like a brother when we met personally for the first time at our hotel.

We had great expectations of change as we arrived in in Dhaka, having not lived in Bangladesh since 2003.   As luck would have it, we arrived to a hartal — a nationwide general strike — called by one of the political parties.  These were common  occurences when we lived here but have thankfully been rare in recent years.  During a hartal, citizens are advised to stay off the streets and economic activity slows or comes to a halt.  The positive side of this is that the usual traffic jams were non-existent and we made it to the hotel in record time.   Our first impressions – the air seems much cleaner (autorickshaws with two-stroke engines have been banned and replaced by much cleaner natural gas-fueled vehicles);   the streets seem cleaner (gauze and jute bags are now often used instead of plastic);  there are many more hotels and restaurants and the high rise offices and apartments are now ubiqitous (you could count these on one hand just 7 years ago).  Tree-lined boulevards and roundabouts welcomed us and, of course, the hospitable Bangladeshi people.    The cattle markets were in full force, preparing for the annual Eid al-Adha holiday when animals, primarily cows and goats, are sacrified and the meat is shared with family and the less fortunate.

We are very happy to be back in Bangladesh for a few weeks.

Rickshaws on a Dhaka street. Photo: Leonard Hill