Dreams . . .
Kajalie Shehreen Islam
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
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
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
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.
Boishakh is a flurry of thoughts and feelings, colours
and hues, scents and tastes, storms and peace.