Biman Chand Mullick: Designer of the first postage stamps of independent Bangladesh and a soldier abroad spreading Bengali language education
By Farzana Naz Shampa (Halifax, Nova Scotia) and Michael Davidson (Ottawa, Ontario)
BimanChand Mullick is simultaneously a social reformer, painter, thinker, poet and environmentalist. He has portrayed images of Bengali social movements through his paintings, writings, and through his social activism. He is one of many enlightened creative personalities, living in obscurity away from their homeland, working to advance Bengali heritage.
Mullick was born in Howrah, a town near Kolkata. In India he studied literature at Calcutta University, won an award for Fine Art in an All-India inter-University Art Exhibition, and, worked as a graphic designer in Kolkata. He came to Britain in 1960 to study advertising design at St Martin’s School of Art in London. For the next four years while he studied graphics at St. Martin’s, while keeping up a full-time job as a general porter at a big teahouse.
In 2006 he ran the London Marathon, a distance of 42.2 km. (26.2 miles) Now in his late eighties, his health, his zeal for action and his discipline is still mostly undiminished and he maintains the habit of running a few miles regularly every morning. While being a permanent resident in London, this Bengali individual remains inspired by the ideals of Bangladesh independence and works to promote the interests of the nation as well as the traditions of the Bengali language.
Mullick first important commission in his career as a free-lance artist designer came in 1964. This was for a project with the Oxford University Press to illustrate a book called India & her Neighbours requiring about 100 drawings, roughly half of them in full-colour and the others in two-colour. The first edition of India & her neighbours was published in 1967, and the book now has gone through several editions and still available all over the world. He has done much work with the BBC and also some for the Cambridge University Press – again as a free-lance artist/designer. Mullick has taught art at the Folkestone School of Art and Crafts in Kent, London, and at Harlow Technical in Essex, as well as at the Middlesex and Kingston Universities in England. He has also lived for a while in Geneva working there as a graphic artist. He has never taken any full-time employment as he much prefers to work independently. His field of practice included advertising design, typography, book design, packaging and book illustration.
The history of a country’s stamps will also reflect the history, heritage, and basic information about that country. In 1971, during its war of liberation, the first provisional government of independent Bangladesh was formed at Baidyanathtala (now Mujibnagar) in Meherpur. Earlier, members of the Liberation Army had set up field post offices and took over existing post offices in the liberated areas. From April until July 1971, they used Pakistani stamps but overprinted by the Bangladesh Authority. There was a need, especially expressed by Tajuddin Ahmed, the first Prime Minister of the Mujibnagar Shorkar government, to promote Bangladesh as an independent state on the world stage, so the Mujibnagar Shorkar decided to issue their own postage stamps. Accordingly, in April, at a refugee camp in India, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed discussed the issue in detail with John Stonehouse – an MP of the British Labor Party and former Post & Telecommunications Minister. In May 1971, Stonehouse was given the responsibility for issuing the stamps through the permission of the Mujibnagar government.
At that time, Mullick was working as a visiting teacher in graphic design at the Folkestone School of Arts and Crafts and Stonehouse was the minister responsible for the British Postal Department. Earlier, in 1969, Mullick had designed a commemorative stamp on the occasion of the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi for the British Postal Department and had won a gold medal for his work. When the General Post Office of the United Kingdom released the stamp, it was ‘the first British stamp to commemorate an overseas leader and the first to be designed by an overseas artist’. Stonehouse returned to the UK from India and met with Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Mission in the UK. Chowdhury had been the vice-chancellor of the University of Dhaka but resigned from that post while in Geneva as a protest against the genocide in East Pakistan by the Pakistan army. From Geneva Chowdhury had gone to the UK as the envoy of the provisional Mujibnagar Government seeking international support for the liberation war. It was there he met with Stonehouse who introduced him to Mullick. Mullick was then requested to design a set of postage stamps for the new republic. Mullick gladly took on the assignment to design the first set of postage stamps for Bangladesh without remuneration as he was regularly hearing reports on the inhumanity and cruelty of the Pakistani aggressors towards the innocent women and men back home. Here was a chance for this enlightened man, rich in the pure ideals of humanity, to help fight for Bangladesh’s liberation and against the cruel brutality of its invaders. Mullick has called the creation of stamps for Bangladesh as one of the best accomplishments of his artistic life.
Mullick made the design for these historic eight stamps in just six weeks. The stamps were designed at a time while he was also carrying on his teaching duties which involved commuting on long train journeys of over 400 miles per week. He had to sketch the ideas for the designs on the moving train and finish the visuals for presentation during late sleepless nights at home. He was not given any design briefs, so he had to decide the subjects for the stamps, sizes, their denominations etc.
In front of the world news media Stonehouse, Mullick, and Chowdhury presented the 1st set of 8 postage stamps for the new Republic of Bangla Desh in the Harcourt room of the House of Commons in London on 26 July. All the guests were given a press pack which not only included the 8 stamps but also includes a First Day Cover and relevant information regarding this historic stamp. The next day, July 27, the news of the issuance of Bangladeshi stamps spread all over the world. News of the stamp’s issuance was widely reported in London’s The Guardian and The Telegraph and other newspapers.
On August 1 at a large rally in Trafalgar Square, Mullick and Stonehouse showed colourful enlargements of these eight stamps in the presence of various dignitaries and expatriate Bengalis while calling for full support for Bangladesh’s independence.
What is remarkable is how carefully the message of stamps’ design matched the communication need for the fledgeling state. The 10 paise stamp showed a map of the new state crisscrossed with lines showing the Tropic of Cancer (23.5 degrees north latitude) and 90 degrees east longitude. The 20 paise stamp remembers the massacre at Dhaka (Dacca) University on March 25 and 26 by Panjab regiments of the Pakistan Army that killed over 300 students and teachers. The killing of the intellectuals of Bangladesh was later that year on December 14, 1971 occurred after the publication of the stamps. The 50 paise stamp tells the world that Bangladesh is a nation of 75 million people.
The one-rupee stamp displays the flag of the new state. The two-rupee stamp gives the election results of the 1970 election where the Awami League won 167 of 169 (98%) East Pakistan seats in the Pakistan National Assembly but none of West Pakistan’s 138 seats. These election results were set void when the Pakistan Army entered Bangladesh. The three-rupee stamp, with its breaking of the chains of bondage, celebrated the declaration of independent government on the April 10, 1971. By the April 17, the provisional Mujibnagar Government was formed with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was in prison in Pakistan, as its president. The five-rupee stamp had a portrait of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, affectionately Bôngobondhu the “Friend of Bengal”, the “Father of the Nation” in Bangladesh. At the time he was considered to be the driving force behind the independence of Bangladesh, being the leader of the Awami League, and later as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 17 April 1971, until his assassination on 15 August 1975. The ten-rupee stamp encouraged all people to support the newly independent Bangladesh.
Through just these eight small, colourful stamps, Mullick managed to show the situation of Bangladesh and its struggle for independence to the world community. The new stamps would prove the existence of a new state, would expose the brutality of the occupying Pakistani forces against its innocent civilians, and would work as ambassadors to help build world support for an independent Bangladesh. Through Stonehouse’s efforts, the stamps were accepted internationally, and soon envelopes with them began to reach different countries. Pakistan was against the stamps after they were released and officially informed the International Postal Union that there was no country having any affiliation with the stamp. Stamp collectors, on the other hand, loved them and purchased them in bulk with the opening day sales of Bangladesh stamps in England were more than US$23,000. Shortly after the release of all eight stamps, three values overprinted with “Bangladesh Liberated” were also issued in Bangladesh. An innovative step had been taken to support an independent Bangladesh.
The Bangabandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, declared the independence of Bangladesh late in March 1971. The Provisional Government was formed in Mujibnagar on 17 April 1971. Mullick’s stamps were formally issued on 29 July 1971. The Pakistan Army forces, located in East Pakistan, signed the Instrument of Surrender, on 16 December 16, 1971, and the nation of Bangla Desh (“Country of Bengal”) was irrevocably established the following day. At the time of surrender only a few countries had provided diplomatic recognition to the new nation while the Pakistan government strongly opposed recognizing it. International recognition came gradually throughout 1972 and 1973, culminating in the Delhi Agreement of 1974, in which Bangladesh, India and Pakistan pledged to work for regional stability and peace. Many countries of the world including Japan, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, Egypt, and the Soviet Union gave their full support early on to independent Bangladesh.
Two eminent journalists, Abdul Matin and Ujjal Das, lobbied to have Mullick’s unique contribution officially honoured, and as a result, on March 26, 2012, the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh presented Mullick with the “Friends of the War of Liberation” Award.
Mullick has written a book for pre-school children to learn the Bengali alphabet and language. The title of this book is My 1st Book of Bengali: Aamar Prothom Bangla Boi. The pages show his pictures drawn in a variety of styles matched with Bengali words and rhymes. The book will be valuable for Bengali parents of pre-school children growing up in a non-Bengali environment. Another children’s story is Hanuman Saves the Prince based on the Indian epic The Ramayana. Then there is A Collector’s Book of Eight Drawings with Eight Indian Vegetarian Recipes with drawings by Mullick and recipes by his wife Mrs. Aparajita Mullick. His memoir, written in Bengali about growing up in distant Howrah, a town near Kolkata in India, and then in the very different world of London is titled Durer Durga: Distant Durga. More information about Mullick and his books can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/mullickbiman/ or at https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=biman+mullick. Mullick has also worked actively with the Bangla Department of the University of London for the promotion of Bangla language and he hopes his books contribute to the spread of Bengali education among the new generation in the diaspora.
In addition to the practice of graphics art, Mullick has been engaged since the 1970s in a worldwide campaign called Cleanair, which is a campaign for a smoke-free environment. He was awarded a special award by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in 1988 for his unique contribution to promote the concept of tobacco-free societies through the set of posters he produced that politely, strongly, and humorously delivered the message that smoking is unhealthy and not smoking should be the norm in public places. Former US president Jimmy Carter and Former Cuban President Fidel Castro were also honoured by the same award.
For his life’s welfare-oriented philosophy, and his commitment to the advancement of the Bengali language, the Canadian Bangladeshi News (CBN) sends its best wishes for a healthy and meaningful future to respected Biman Dada, an enlightened, humble, worldly, wise and talented person.
Farzana Naz Shampa (Author)
Michel Davidson (Translation)
The images are sourced from