<%-- Page Title--%> One-Off <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 130 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

November 14, 2003

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Welcoming the Season of Gaiety

Aly Zaker

"Now is the winter of our discontent”, said Richard, the duke of Gloucester later to become King Richard the third, in his opening line of the Shakespeare's play of the same name. For Richard, that particular winter was of discontent compounded by the misery usually brought by the winters in the Northern Hemisphere. For us, it is so delightfully different. We await the advent of autumn ushering in Hemanta (alas! they do not have a season like this) and finally taking us to the season of abundance winter. Most of our festivals also happen at this time of the year. This year, like the last few, Eid will fall at the advent of winter. This, I am sure, is going to add greater flourish to this great festival. People can wear better, eat better, be outdoors without being intimidated by the rain or heat.

Eid always used to be a favourite festival of ours. Especially when we were children. My mother used to wait for the moon sighting night, or the chand raat as it used to be called, to give a final touch to her Eid shopping. She used to hop into our jalopy and rush to Patuatuli to pick up the bottle of rose water or the silk ribbon, attar et al. We never succeeded in talking her out of this last minute ritual. However illogical it may have seemed to us, this last minute chore had a special place in our mother's heart. Thinking in retrospect, I guess she could do with this bit of excitement in an otherwise lacklustre life of a Bangali mother. I remember my younger sister and I used to walk on the bed wearing our new shoes. We did not want to get them soiled or tried to prolong their newness as far as it was practicable.

Visiting friends and relatives in our para and beyond used to be really exciting. The usual Eid fare was always there, add to it the company of children belonging to our age group. Buckland bund by the river Buriganga was a favourite joint. Children in the hundreds loaded with their eidie used to land on the bund, usually in the afternoon, dressed in their finery specially given as Eid gifts by their parents. Occasionally, we would hire those horse drawn carriages and travel down the Buckland Bund to Farashganj on one side and Badamtoli on the other. On the Eid day we were allowed to treat ourselves with any food that we had always fancied but never got around to buy. Kot-koti for instance, or Murali, Hajmi gooli or Hawai mithai.

Two other festivals that come to mind are Durga Puja and Christmas.

Both these festivals are sweetly timed from the point of view of seasonality. Puja comes with the advent of Autumn when the sky begins to become dark blue, fluffy white clouds sail across the sky in gay abandon, due drops greet our bare feet as we embark upon the green grass and, of course, the Shephali flowers exude its all pervasive fragrance. Durga Puja was and still is a big event for us. In the old part of Dhaka where we grew up, a number of Puja pandals used to be erected and the sound of the drum could be heard throughout the day. Dhaker baddi or the sound of drum ushered in the festival of Durga Puja and the season of autumn. There is no denying the fact that a kind of exhilaration accompanies the sound of the drum. There are a number of outstanding poems narrating the magic of this Dhaker Baddi.

Christmas, on the other hand, comes in winter after the oppressive heat is over and, because of it being a global festival, impacts our urban society significantly.

The manner of celebration of these time-tested festivals has undergone a wanton metamorphosis over the period of time. What used to be festivals for the sake of sheer enjoyment shared with friends, relatives and all those that we knew is fast becoming a show of vulgar ostentation. In this we are not even bothered to heed the sensitivity of the people we live with. A bull to be slaughtered could cost as much as the seller wanted as long as it surpassed the price my neighbour paid. A saree should be more expensive than the people I know should be able to afford. My attar has been flown in from Iran. And these must not go unnoticed. There was a time when such values as decency and modesty used to come naturally to people. Today, being modest is the sign of being a failure in life.

When eternal values are decimated to merrily accommodate roguish insolence and the society watches it with helplessness, it is as Richard the Third, someone not very far from or unknown to us would say, “I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days, plots have I laid, inductions dangerous by drunken prophecies, libels and dreams…”. Or like Lady Macbeth had wailed “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”.

There was a good reason for me to turn to Shakespeare in the beginning of this column.


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