There was something extra ordinary warm and benevolent about Ishrat Akhond.
This was a quality that endeared her to all shortly after meeting her; a quality fondly remembered by her close family and friends as they commemorate her life ahead of her first death anniversary.
Ishrat, an art provocateur and philanthropist who was passionate about promoting children and young people, was among the 24 killed in the Gulshan terror attack at Holey Artisan Bakery on July 1, 2016.
“She was a beautiful flower…her positive spirit still encourages others to do something good for society,” said artist Pijush Kanti Sarkar, one of the victim’s close friends.
Pijush, who teaches at Aga Khan School in Dhaka, added: “She was one of the few people in the world who found light, beauty and positivity in everything.”
Ishrat’s friends who spoke to the Dhaka Tribune all had the same thing to say about her: Irrespective of her friendly, affectionate demeanour and her positive glow, Ishrat was one tough lady.
Ashim Halder, a young artist who used to work with Ishrat told the Dhaka Tribune: “She was also strong, independent and full of dreams and aspirations. She stood for justice and was never one to be afraid of speaking her mind.”
Ishrat worked as a director of marketing and events for Westin Hotels and as a director of human resources for a European apparel buying company, ZXY International FZCO. She had studied management at York University in Toronto and subsequently at the Australian Institute of Management in Sydney.
She was one of the most influential business women in the country and was a member of the Bangladesh-German Chamber of Commerce – a bilateral business organisation promoting trade between the two countries – election committee, a status which spoke volumes regarding her caliber as a business woman.
Those who knew her would undoubtedly agree that the she carried joy in her heart and was always ready to heal a broken heart. Ishrat apu loved people and found solace in inspiring, encouraging and guiding those around her
A friend, a healer
Her cousin, Priyanka Khan Hamid said: “Though we were connected by blood, our relationship was far more soulful. Those who knew her would undoubtedly agree that the she carried joy in her heart and was always ready to heal a broken heart. Ishrat apu loved people and found solace in inspiring, encouraging and guiding those around her.”
Priyanka recalled that she would often asked her how she managed to be so happy and smile all the time, even through all the challenges that life threw at her and said to that Ishrat would pleasantly reply, “I am happy because life is beautiful.”
“Unfortunately, the world gave in to brutality and took away that one person who appreciated the gift of life,” Priyanka lamented.
An inspiration for young artists
Ishrat was also an art lover who had big dreams for Bangladesh’s arts and culture and how to bring it more global recognition.
She wanted to create a market for artwork with a view to promoting young artists in Bangladesh. With the Institute of Asian Creatives (IAC), she provided a platform in which young artists could exhibit their artwork easily.
Dhaka University Fine Arts ex-student Sinthia Arefin said: “I had worked with Ishrat apu in many exhibitions. She was very close to me and used to inspire me to become a world renowned artist someday.”
Sinthia is on that very path at the moment. After completing her BFA and MFA in Bangladesh, she has been studying visual arts in London. She says Ishrat used to check in on her and her work regularly.
“She used to introduce me to all of her friends, art collectors, diplomats as her star artist,” Sinthia recalled to the Dhaka Tribune, adding: “Even a few days before she was brutally killed, we had a talk about my present style of work. She was very appreciative of my art.”
Rumi Noman, another of Ishrat’s close friends, said even though most of the galleries in the country tend to exhibit artwork by prominent and established artists, Ishrat’s initiative was to promote young artists.
“She invited foreigners to the exhibitions and sold artwork by young, local artists. This brought recognition for many,” explained Noman.
Her demise was a great loss both for art and artists throughout the country. According to her friends and colleagues, she took part in a number of exhibitions abroad to introduce Bangladeshi artwork into the international arena.
“Ishrat’s untimely death is an irreplaceable loss both for art and artists, especially since very few people nowadays come forward to promote the country’s younger artists,” said Aga Khan School teacher Pijush.
Living with hope for a better world
Extremely shocked and traumatized by the terrorist attack which snatched Ishrat from them, her friends and family members do not want to see Bangladesh riddled with such death and chaos anymore.
They think Ishrat’s soft heart in this cruel world was her strength and feel that she sacrificed her life to make this world a better place.
“Today we grieve with hope… hope for a better world. The world was unfit for you, Ishrat apu, and I hope you have found your ‘beautiful world’,” said Ishrat’s cousin Priyanka.
“Ishrat Akhond may not be in our lives today, but she will always be in our hearts,” she said, adding: “Her message, now our message, to the world: please wake up before humanity dies.”