Shaheen Reza Rassel: An Untold Story of Courage | The Daily Star
10:50 AM, August 12, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:46 AM, August 12, 2019

An Untold Story of Courage

Some people are never defeated in life no matter how much obstacles and adversities they have to face.

Shaheen Reza Rassel is one among them. A multifaceted young artist from Magura, Rassel embodies a dream larger than life despite all his hardships. 

Rassel has been diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, Becker Muscular Dystrophy (BMD), which weakens the muscle in the hips, pelvis and legs.

Anyone who is diagnosed with the disease would eventually have to be confined to a wheelchair in ten years. It will also damage all the organs of the body slowly, eventually leading to death and there is no known treatment for the disease.

And then there is Rassel, who, despite all his adversities, has been trying to explore art as a writer, poet, playwright, singer, music composer, and painter.

He is also an organiser, having founded Teerondaj Natyadal, a theatre troupe, and Dhaka University Environment Society, the only organisation in the university that works on the aspects of disaster management and environment.  

But his ultimate goal is to build a museum, which will exhibit the stories and other memorabilia of people across the world who braved through great adversities to become successful.

He wants to name it ‘Museum of Courage’.

Such stories would inspire people immensely, and would give rays of hope to those who are drowned in frustration in their lives, Rassel said.

Rassel, now 35, came up with this goal around two decades back when he met his physician after being diagnosed with the rare disease.

“My boy, be strong in your mind and live the rest of the days full of life,” said the doctor as he put his affectionate hand on Rassel’s head.

Only a tenth grader at that time, Rassel has come a long way since then and is now an assistant director (National Art Gallery) of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy in the capital. 

Asked about the museum of courage, Rassel said, “Many people become frustrated in life, but they can get inspiration to move forward when they see differently-abled people reach their goals defying all the adverse situations they had to face.”

“We sometimes come across stories of someone climbing the Everest with prosthetic legs, or someone painting pictures using their mouth.  Then there is the story of late cosmologist Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of this century who was diagnosed with a slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease that left him paralysed for life and I think such stories will surely help anyone look at life in a new way.”

“I have a plan to give a proposal to the government for building the museum,” Rassel said.

Rassel knows that he does not have much long -- four or five years, or may be even less -- as doctors told him two years back. The disease has recently affected his hands and lungs, yet, he does not stop dreaming about building a museum of courage.

It was in 2000 when Rassel, along with his parents, visited Dr Avijit Chatterjee, a physician in India, following persistent fever.

He came to learn from the doctor that he was diagnosed with BMD, which would slowly make it difficult for him to walk and would confine him to wheelchair within the next ten years. 

It would also damage all the organs of the body slowly leading to death, the doctor said.

There is no treatment for the disease in the world, he added.

With a broken heart, Rassel returned to his home in Magura’s Sreepur upazila. There was a library near their residence and he used to spend most of the time there. At one stage, he found inspiration for his life after going through the biographies of mathematician Steven Williams and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

“I was confined to wheelchair in July 2016. However, the doctor had said that if there is mental strength, it is possible to beat all the odds, and I truly believe in it,” Rassel told The Daily Star.    

After completing his Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies from Dhaka University, Rassel joined Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy as an assistant director in 2013.

In 2011, Rassel formed Dhaka University Environment Society, a voluntary organisation. So far around 1,000 people have received training through a three-month course titled “Disaster Management and Environmental Security”. Officials of Fire Service and Civil Defence and teachers of Dhaka University are the trainers of the organisation.

Besides this, he formed Teerondaj Natyadal, in 2009.  He has written four stage plays and 14 street plays. He acted in a stage play named ‘Raktorin’ as a lead character. Apart from drawing the covers of his books, he has also designed nearly 3,000 graphics at the Shilpakala Academy.

Rassel is also the president of Boithok, a recitation organisation. He wrote and published four books of poetry. He has written lyrics and composed music for 18 songs to date.

Expressing gratitude to his wife Zakia Hasnat, Rassel mentioned the significance of his wife’s love and support behind his journey so far. They fell in love when they were students of Dhaka University.

“I truly believe that one day people like us will be recognised as golden citizens in the society instead of being addressed as differently-abled persons,” he added.

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