Boisterous, spirited and laid back; that is how I would sum up a true Bangali. The main essence of Bangalipana is to be happy with no strings attached. A bowl of jhaalmuri, a cup of sweet tea, two friends and politics, and we are on cloud nine. It has been like this ever since I can recall.
While hard-hitting concerns like recession, inflation, lack of civic sense, dug up roads all remain overlooked, trifling issues like Bangladesh winning a cricket match or Nolok Babu rising from the ashes are rejoiced, and celebrated with feasts of freshly slaughtered beef and steaming kacchi.
We do scream and shout, become impatient with the deteriorating law and order situation but never raise a fuss big enough to make the public servants wake up. In fact as citizens we just take it all in and adjust to take in more. That is how we are, nonchalant and bored with the rest of the world, but content as long as we are snug in our own bubbles. The motto seems to be, “if it's not my problem, I don't bother.”
But life was not so when we were children. The community feeling was strong, neighbourhoods were safe, and people were patient. A bangali's happiness was genuine.
Sadly, childhood is a nostalgic dream now; no matter how hard you try to replicate those memories you cannot go back to those carefree moments. Bangalipana has taken an urban twist.
I remember my mother, my aunts and their friends dressed in dora saris or Dhakai bitis, a simple bira khopa, light gold jewellery, eyes lined with home-made kohl, or the grey touch of surma, the mandatory coloured, powdered bindi, a beli or dolan chapa tucked casually on the side of their buns, a splash of rose water as perfume. They entertained friends for tea with homemade malpoas, pakoras and kebabs.
It's inconceivable for me now. Coming home exhausted by the sheer grind of city life, I simply cringe if I have to entertain on weeknights, forget tea parties or evening chit chats.
During winter breaks those mandatory visits to dada bari have simply vanished. I remember those early November mornings. While the village was cloaked in a blanket of mist and not a soul stirred from the comfort of a warm bed, you could see someone below the thatched shed in the corner of the open courtyard, someone lighting the firewood and firing up the mud stove.
The silhouette was that of a young woman in her early twenties wrapped in a shawl, helping her mother-in-law with the rice cakes (pithas) that had been soaked in milk and jaggery the night before. Someone would fetch a terracotta pot full of sweet chilled date juice and the women unfurled the hand-woven rug or shatranji beside their mud kitchen for the entire household to drop in for their early morning cuppa and munchies before breakfast.
The young and the old gathered around that cosy kitchen for their share of pitha and rosh before setting off to laze again or attend to other chores of the day. The two in the kitchen, however, would be busy frying eggs, making vegetable curries called labras to go with kalai roti (a thick hand-made chapatti made out of lentil flour) or chith roti (a thin snow white bread designed like a lace hanky) for breakfast. Isn't it dreamlike?
Cereal has replaced those hand-made goodies on the urban breakfast table, and the Friday morning indulgence of parathas consists of the store-bought ready-to-cook variety. So much for our Bangalipana.
The summer visits to nanu bari were the most awaited vacations. Climbing the trees, swimming in the ponds, playing water sports, stealing mangoes were just casual fun. I remember my father's enthusiasm at my doll's wedding, or when we planned a picnic with the children from the neighbourhood.
Engrossed in Cooking Academy, or any such computer game, our child does not know the name of the child next door. Now the nanu or dadi baris are apartments and a child's only source of happiness is a computer with an Internet connection. Thus Bangalipana has also evolved.
The simple pleasures of life are no longer simple. Wanting to be and actually being in high spirits does take its toll on us. For instance, to go to an addabaji session at a friend's now, would take you at the least an hour; manipulating the traffic, controlling the road rage, wanting to throttle oblivious pedestrians on the middle of highways, ignoring the undone chores and when you finally arrive at the destination; you've lost the mood. It used to be as simple as a rickshaw ride from destination A to B.
Yet in spite of everything we intend to stay blissful, our Bangalipana may change as time demands but at heart we all reminisce the lost flavours and on that note I wish all a Shuvo Nobobarsho.
By Raffat Binte Rashid
Model: Iffat Nawaz
Photo: Zahedul I Khan and Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Make up and Hair: Farzana Shakil's Makeover Salon
Special thanks to Major (Retd.) Iqbal Ali and Naseem Iqbal for allowing us to do the photo shoot at their farmhouse in Kaliganj.