ISSN 2330-717X

Tale Of An Australian Artist Living In Bangladesh – OpEd

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There is no unified answer to the question what motivates a man to leave his motherland and get settled in another country. The answer may have root in socio-economic, political, and cultural opportunities and other untold complications.     

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Whatever the reason is, it is most unlikely for an Australian artist to leave his country permanently seeking passionate love for professional work and a village lady in a poverty-stricken country. Unbelievably, it is the story of an Australian artist named Malcolm Arnold who is living in Bangladesh since 2004 after being married to a village lady Halima.

The story started a quite long time ago. With an invitation from Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a veteran Awami League politician and the then chief of Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), Malcolm as a part of eight-member delegation team came to Bangladesh for the first time in 2001 on an official visit to the Sundarbans area to work on a book. 

In the same year, when Malcolm visited Mongla area of Khulna on his way back from the Sundarbans area, he met Halima, a widow having a little daughter working under a non-government organisation (NGO) named World Vision Bangladesh in the same area for an amount of taka 3,000 on a monthly basis. 

During the first meeting, they exchanged mutual whereabouts with a 25 minutes conversation. Afterwards, Malcolm left for Australia. After his departure, Halima became sick unfortunately and in 2003 she wrote a letter to him in Australia. 

Following the letter and being compassionate, he again came to Bangladesh and took the responsibility for her care and bear the entire medical cost. The mutual situation turned more compassionate as if they rediscovered themselves in the chemistry of relationship between love and care.       

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After losing her parents at an early age, and when her four elder brothers refused to take responsibility of her life, Halima who hailed from Perikhali village of Rampal upazila under Bagerhat district started working as a housemaid in Khulna finding no other way. Being a victim of mistreatment as the housemaid she left that job and started working in that NGO. In the meantime, she has grasped the art of speaking English to a fairly good level, though she cannot read and write the language.

Like the cinematic world, their acquaintance turned into friendship and later they fell in love from friendship. As a result, they ended up as husband and wife with a knot on 8 February in 2004 when Malcolm was 56 and Halima was 33.   

Since marriage, the couple has been living in a small rented house at Sonadanga village of Khulna town paying around taka 7,000 in a month. Besides, Malcolm has to spend nearly a monthly cost of taka 7,000 to 8,000 for his medical purposes for the last few years.  

Now, Malcolm is over 74 and Halima is above 51 and they are passing 18 years of their marriage. Drawing is the only source of income for the artist but he has been facing untold sufferings as his sketches are unsold and the Covid-19 situation for the last two years has added to the agony of the family. Even though he remains sick most of the time nowadays and he is unable to draw new paintings making a headway for livelihoods owing to illness and age burden. 

Apart from age old complications, Malcolm has been suffering from a number of costly diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis and heart ailments for a long time. He is in need of immediate income for the maintenance of his family and also for his treatment. But he cannot work now and day by day he is getting sicker with gradual deterioration of his health and workability.   

As per the prescription of doctors, Malcolm is in need of a balanced diet and the family is unable to manage it. Finding no other way, the family is seeking financial assistance from a wealthy section of people to meet up their expenses on humanitarian grounds.   

Malcolm, who got divorce from his first wife in Australia 15 years ago, has left Australia permanently after making financial arrangements for his two daughters there. He has no property in Australia.

The story of Malcolm and Halima is an unusual one. According to her wife Halima, Malcolm is very helpless now. She tried to contact the Australian embassy in Dhaka and the embassy officials have advised her to do business taking loan but she is in the horns of a dilemma to make a decision on loan and its aftermath related to complications.   

According to a newspaper interview recently, Halima is not remorseful about her life, rather she is immensely worried about the life and present inhuman situation of Malcolm who left Australia for the love of art, paintings, and love for her. She cannot endure the incumbent situation of the world class artist who is fading away in such a pitiful manner. 

Born in Adelaide, South Australia, Malcolm started as a professional artist in 1976 and has been specializing in wildlife since 1980. His work on ‘Bangladesh Sharing Moments’ is given to a publisher in Dhaka but it is yet to be published. He is not interested in going to Australia despite his inhuman life in Bangladesh.  

Long ago, when Malcolm was visiting neighboring New Zealand shared his favourite quote which is “an artist is one who sees beauty where no one else even looks”. Throughout his life he assumed that his witnessing of poverty has led him to the conviction that his art can be a tool to help others but he and his wife are now in a distressing situation at the last stage of his life. 

With the assistance from friends, Malcolm participated in an exhibition at the Drik Gallery in Dhaka in June 2019 and earned a small amount of money by selling some of his drawings. That small amount of money was his last earnings. The iron of fate has propelled the couple to an economic crisis and nearly in a position to seek humanitarian assistance to bear the cost of the treatment of Malcolm for a wide variety of illnesses for few years.  

Ostensibly, it is unbelievable that an Australian citizen who lives in Bangladesh is struggling with financial constraints as Australia is one of the richest countries in the world. But the reality of Malcolm has reminded everyone that the truth hurts. So, the wealthy section of people whether from Australia, Bangladesh or from any part of the world should come forward to share the economic burden of the noted artist like him and his beloved wife Halima.   

About Author: Emdadul Haque is an Independent Human Rights Researcher and Freelance Contributor based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Previously, he served academia for more than a decade and lastly as an Assistant Professor of Law at Southeast University. He holds Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws from Rajshahi University. He can be reached via email: [email protected] and on Twitter: @emdadlaw

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