Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   | Volume 6, Issue 15, Tuesday, April 12, 2011



A plea

What makes us men? Women, of course. Just as we would not know 'dark' without comparison to 'light', there cannot be man without woman. Our little quirks and idiosyncrasies would not be quirks without women noticing them and complaining about them. In fact, no matter how much men want to believe it, we all secretly know that without women we would still be living in forests eating berries.

Berries because without women to impress, we would not have to kill large animals and display our strength or superiority over other living beings. We would have gone the way of the Neanderthals, which -- despite what the fairer sex may say about us at one or other point in time -- we are not. Anyway, what I am trying to do here is lay some positive groundwork for what is to come next. No, it will not be a misogynist rant, instead a plea to all Bangladeshi women. A dark day in our lives is coming. Pohela Boishakh.

Don't get us wrong, we love the outpouring of cultural sentiment. It is great to see all the colours, the festive atmosphere, the white and red saris. It really is a fabulous occasion, and here is the crux -- it's more fabulous if we are lounging on our couches and watching it on TV. Yes, this is what the modern man has come to. 'Curled up in front of the TV' is not a manly thing to do by any stretch of imagination, but there you have it.

Okay, at this point some of you men are sure to turn to your better halves and say, "I am not like that. I love going out on Pohela Boishakh." You have to say that, there is no shame on you for it. But deep down you are crying. You look at the couch, its cushions undented, and you sigh knowing that it will remain undented. You think of tomorrow and realise that it will be back to the daily grind again. You look down at your white panjabi and you curse it silently. Then you follow her out the door.

It has been the same through the ages. Women are the driving force behind our actions. They are the force that keeps us from vegetating into berry-munching savages. And it is for women that we do get to enjoy the vibrancy of a Pohela Boishakh in Dhaka, at the Ramna Botomul. But if you are a woman reading this on Pohela Boishakh, throw a bone to the man who would much rather enjoy a day indoors. Send someone out for the various Boishakhi delights, and enjoy the Noboborsho scenes on TV. It really won't be that bad, it's just one year.



A summer new year

By Kaniska Chakraborty

Aka Pohela Boishakh.

Time for the very venerable Calcutta Bangali tradition -- Choitro sale. And not just new clothes. Everything from the crochet cover for your microwave to the plastic jacket for your washing machine to ersatz flowers to music. Everything is on sale and everything has got to go.

And go they do. Over fifteen frenzied days.

This is not the stuff that you get from a swanky mall. No branded stores will sell these. But Gariahat will. To the uninitiated, Gariahat used to be second only to New Market when it came to shopping for fineries. Today, it is a long stretch of hawkers selling things that you possibly did not know existed.

Consider this. A shop called 'Baba Lokenath Store', named after the famed sadhu, selling Bangkok jewellery. And they say so. “Baba Lokenath Stores Bangkok Jewellery.”

Then there is Mega Mart, the discount store whose line snakes around the previous four roll counters, who do brisk business only selling to those patiently waiting in line.

Shopping during Choitro sale is not for the faint-hearted. Heated arguments with the hawkers, faux anger and irritation, mock despair, secret delight of striking what you think is a bargain, only a glimpse of the gamut of emotions that run amok.

But crowd watching? Now that is a different sport.

My workplace is smack in the middle of that battle zone and I have been experiencing the frenzy up close and personal. I, being a large person, am an obstacle on the way of the seasoned shopper. I take up too much space on the sidewalks. I move too slow. I gaze too long at “Baba Lokenath Store”. But you know what? I take in the sights and sounds more than anything else.

The other day, as I started my customary walk to the taxi stand, I passed by the innocuous muriwala. He, sitting there with his glass jar full of peanuts and roasted beans and boiled peas and diced boiled potatoes and shredded coconut and chopped onions and sliced cucumbers and oily pickles. I was, as always, feeling peckish. So I picked up a packet of that stuff.

It was made to order stuff. Less muri, more chanachur, little boiled chickpeas, a sprinkling of bhujia, a scattering of peanuts, a smear of pickles, a drizzle of mustard oil, some diced boiled potatoes for the body and some diced cucumbers for the crunch. Sans onion and chili. I did not want an over the top experience.

Munching that from a packet made of old newspaper called thonga, I walked down crowded Gariahat. That stuff kept me going. The spice of the pickles expertly countered the first collision with the lady laden with shopping bags. The bite of the bhujia took care of the alpha male head of family shepherding his herd through the zone. The softness of boiled potatoes made the crossing of the street easier. The puffiness of the muri negotiated the myriad shopping carts placed haphazardly all along.

And all this aided by the smell of kati rolls, the sight of fish fry, the mound of pakoras, the oodles of noodles, the oily drip of beguni. By the time I reached the landmark sweet shop, stone's throw from my taxi stand, I had finished my muri. I felt strong enough to brave the crowd inside the sweet shop and pick up some shorbhaja.

But that story is for another day.


My Boishakh

Just some years back, I wasn't quite oriented with Pohela Boishakh. It wasn't me but also my other mad journalist friends who aren't ladies and deal with more mundane matters, although much more important financially and politically.

I asked this workaholic friend of mine over the phone. My aunt has called us for dinner. I wonder if a debutante is being presented to the family. I went, taking my unimaginative cream gateau as a gift. Others had ornate be-ribboned, 'kulas' with all sorts of fancy dishes to laden the table and satiate the hunger pangs.

The ladies were dressed suitably and to the hilt. The food was welcome; the family members and friends were warm as always.

Oh, yes. There was another occasion: This had baked hilsa and heaven knows how many goodies. This was hosted by a sweet, understanding journalist friend, with her bevy of beautiful sisters and polite, understanding friends.

Here too I had a whooping time with merry-making, laughter and banter. The food was scrumptious, not to say it isn't so in that house on every single occasion. The family has shifted to Uttara. And how I miss them and their cat 'Biral'!

These friends of mine do communicate with me and invite me over ever so many times. And my imagination and wishful thinking takes me over there to their beautifully cosy home, with endless rooms to eat and chat in. Relaxing, basking in friends' praises, Pohela Boishakh there was always an event to remember and cherish. Giggling, chatting, munching, and getting to know the ways of my people here in Bangladesh, with friends and family have always been a happy and memorable occasion.

I've dined in other friends' homes too -- artist friends, who've always been warm and wonderful spoiling me with mouth-watering food and gifts for the occasion. Shall I tell you about Shumi and her husband Maksud? Baked hilsa in massive spoon-loads is something that has made a glutton of me in their Dhanmondi home. This singer and painter couple, trained in New Delhi, and originating in Comilla, welcome me with words of wisdom and opportunity to do 'pet puja' at any and every time, specially during the Haal Khata day.

Let me add to my adventures of gourmandising on this occasion of bonhomie and 'bon appetite'. Rowshan, the buddy of mine for donkey's ages, grooming me with other Dhaka friends to sip deep into the lovely life of Dhakaites -- the descendants of muslin-makers, and 'bakarkhani'.

The nonpareil taste of the silver hilsa, as overwhelming as that of the irresistible pink salmon, the gales of laughter among Rowshan's children and their husbands and wives have left an indelible mark on my mind. Even the superb reddish clay earthenware tableware, bought from Aarong by the daughter Rabia was something to wonder at. The fish -- hilsa of course, cooked by the young chef to match the occasion -- went well with the raw mango drink, chutneys, salads and what you will. Welcome, days of feasting and rejoicing.

By Fayza Haq


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