<%-- Page Title--%> Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 150 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 16, 2004

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Bangali, Boishakhi
Dreams . . .

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

Noboborsho is a feeling . . . It's in the things I see, hear and feel around me. Flashes in my mind, scattered scents, sights and sounds -- like the scent of wet soil and the feel of cool winds against my face after a kal boishakhi storm, riding a rickshaw in the rain, girls dressed in red and white sarees with white flowers in their hair, dusty village roads and star-studded skies, thongs of people at Ramna, the stifling heat, the squeaky ride at the art college, the taste of salty ilish maachh, the smell of burning wood in the early morning, photos of my Dhaka University friends on Pahela Boishakh . . .

When I was younger, I loved the colour red. Besides the bright appeal, I think it had something to do with Bangali brides being dressed in red, for, at the age of three or four, I think I went through a common phase of wanting to be a bou. (Not allowed to wear lipstick, I would even go around eating paan in order to make my lips red). The excitement at such prospects has since subsided with age, however. At that point, though, I knew little about what it was to be "Bangali".

The first time that I can remember celebrating Pahela Boishakh must have been when I was 11 or 12. I was in Libya at the time, and, having seen many young girls and even some boys taking singing lessons from an Auntie there, I wanted to do the same. So I took it up, writing down lyrics of Bangla songs in English alphabets and learning to play the keyboard.

After some months, as April 14 approached, we started practicing various songs, including Tagore's dance drama “Chandalika” and, of course, “Esho he boishakh”. But even then I didn't quite understand the significance of the event.

I first wore a white saree with a red paar and went to the Institute of Fine Arts early in the morning on Pahela Boishakh when I was 19. It was a totally new experience for me after having lived abroad most of my life, and only having celebrated the Bangla new year in cultural/musical functions there as well as at the English medium school I went to in Dhaka. That day, I did the whole deal. I got my face painted, rode the noisy ferris wheel, wore flowers in my hair.

Since then, I've always celebrated the coming of Boishakh regardless of where I am, be it at a friend's place or with my parents at Gulshan Club. I've worn the traditional outfit, eaten panta bhaat and ilish maachh. I even begin the day with a resolution to speak only Bangla that whole day.

But even today, I have difficulty remembering the Bangla months in order and, often, even what Bangla year it is. I still have trouble understanding difficult Bangla in university texts. I can write better English than I can Bangla.

I was born a Bangali, but I could never really take my Bangali identity quite for granted. It's something I was hardly aware of as a child, something I was physically far removed from even though Bangla and the fact that we were Bangali dominated our home. I had to start learning to read and write Bangla from scratch in Class 8 in Dhaka. Before I could get very far, I again had to leave.

Yet my family and friends find me to be very Bangali at heart. I cannot impress people by reciting Tagore's “Shesher Kobita" or writing beautiful Bangla prose as I would so like to. I'm no classical dancer and my saree always needs fixing even after I've done my best to wear it properly. My values and my outlook on life may very well be influenced by my somewhat mixed upbringing.

My being Bangali has, to an extent, been like the experience of millions of people who are born to different religions but who have to learn to believe in order to have true faith. I realise that I am not a "typical” Bangali. In many ways, I have had to learn to be one. But I have loved what I have learned.

Perhaps I have always been Bangali at heart, without even realising it myself. In another sense, it's as if I have chosen to be Bangali, and I do and appreciate many things other Bangalis take for granted.

And so, when I am asked to reflect on what Pahela Boishakh means to me, there are no ingrained ideas, no concrete memories.

Celebrating Pahela Boishakh is like celebrating my ever-growing Bangali identity, celebrating being in Dhaka after many years of being away from home and the many things, big and small, that I missed.

Pahela Boishakh is a flurry of thoughts and feelings, colours and hues, scents and tastes, storms and peace.


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