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     Volume 7 Issue 17 | April 25, 2008 |

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Celebrating Dhaka

Elita Karim

The best part of the festival was the mouth-watering delicacies from Old Dhaka

It was the rhythmic sounds made by the Bangla dhols and the wedding band-party that stopped people on their tracks outside the Kalabagan field. The scene inside was all the more alluring. Filled with food stalls, folk musicians dressed up in bright colours and children lined up to get on the nagordola, it was Dhaka City from the yesteryears.

Titled 'Taste of Dhaka', the three-day festival which began on April17 was a celebration of four hundred years of Dhaka City and the brainchild of Spellbound, an event management company comprising of young people. "For months, we were planning to organise a fair where we could bring together the different tastes of Dhaka, namely the variety in music and food," says Md. Sadequl Arefeen from Spellbound. "We figured that we could probably blend in the celebrations of 400 years of Dhaka City. That's when we got in touch with Dhaka Mohanogori Samity and proposed the idea."

Visitors thoroughly enjoyed rare sherbets and drinks made from age-old recipes

A lot of the members being Dhakaiyas, the Samity was more than happy to help organise this event. "The festival was a huge success," says Arefeen. Even though the festival had a rough beginning on the first day with very few people showing up due to the weather conditions, it eventually caught up with a huge crowd on the next two days. With tickets priced at Tk 20, the Kalabagan Field soon became a popular spot for the particular weekend. Visitors came not only from around the Kalabagan and Dhanmondi areas, but from faraway places like Gazipur as well.

Twenty-two-year-old Roem Shams, a BBA student of a leading private university was seen amidst the crowd on the second day of the festival. According to him, his parents had come to the festival in the morning and were so impressed that they practically forced him to visit the festival and not spend the weekend lying around at home. Theatre personality Syed Ahmed and the Vice Chancellor of North South University, Dr. Hafiz GA Siddiqi inaugurated the festival.

For all the three days of the festival, crowds would hound the famous Hajir Biriyani

The best part of the festival was, undoubtedly, the food. As most of the Spellbound team come from Old Dhaka, Arefeen says they had to literally beg the popular food shop owners to support them by putting up stalls at the festival. "Most of them obviously, were not sure of what we were talking about in the first place," he smiles. The names were legend -- Hajir Biriyani, Bhoj, Muslim Sweets, Capital Confectionary, Dhakar Pitha, Dhakar Achar, Bashir Kabab, Made in Jinjira, Dhoni Restaurant, Alauddin Sweets, Mama Halim -- and many more. They have been doing extremely well for decades in their very own areas. Why would they want to come to a festival and that too organised by a group of young students? However, by the time the festival ended, these food legends were extremely satisfied with the turnover and have already booked a place for themselves at Spellbound's next venture. According to the famous Hajir Biriyani, the shop situated in Old Dhaka usually sells four dekchis (big cooking pots) of biriyani every day; two in the daytime and two in the evenings. On Friday alone, Hajir Biriyani sold around five deckchis of biriyani. "On top of it all, many of the baburchis (cooks) received personal orders from many of the visitors," says Arefeen. "For us, this was a huge achievement in itself."

Many of the visitors to the festival were retired people who had grown up in the older part of the city

There were food items and sherbets that one only reads about in stories now. One crowd-puller was the stall selling sherbet mixed with pesta badaam and milk. At another stall, the famous Boro Baaper Polay Khay, a unique mixture of spicy, sour and sweet ingredients, was selling like hotcakes. "There were age-old pithas and drinks that I had never even heard of," says Arefeen. "Many of our visitors were retired couples who grew up in the old part of city. It was a wonder to see them elated, eating and drinking."

The three-day festival attracted a good number of young people along with the elderly crowd

Yet another attraction at the festival was the music. While on one side of the field, Bangla dhol players, dressed up in colourful shirts and lungis, showcased an enthralling performance, creating a rhythm with their dhols and dances, the traditional wedding band-party in uniforms covered the other side of the field. At several points, these two different sounds of music would blend in and create an intense cacophony of trumpets, dhols, flutes and the drums. "We had at least 80 instrument players who got together and performed the famous song 'Bangladesher Dhol', much to the delight of the visitors," says Arefeen. Right before performing the song on stage, the instrument players spent some time explaining each instrument to the audience. "There were 21 different instruments which were extremely popular at different occasions in Dhaka years ago," says Arefeen. "There was a chara, cornet, the traditional dhak and dhol, different kinds of flutes, ektara, dotara, kasha, mondira, traditional violin and many more."

To date, Spellbound has organised several events in Dhaka City. However, according to the Spellbound team, organising Taste of Dhaka has been particularly rewarding. The team's purpose of bringing back a little bit of our glorious past not only filled both the elderly visitors and the age-old food shop owners with nostalgia, but has also lead them to prompt Spellbound to organise such a festival once again. "We are planning to hold our next festival in January 2009," says Arefeen.

The traditional Nagordola was also a popular attraction at the festival
The Bangla dhol players blended their rhythms with the traditional wedding band-party music

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