Bangla Town Revisited
Nadia Kabir Barb
Time has a way of running away before you know. You seem to have fast forwarded a couple of days, weeks, months even years into the future and you sit and wonder where the time went. In fact just the other day I was having one of those “oh my goodness, I can't believe it's been almost two years since I went to the Baishakhi Mela in Brick Lane” moments. I recall the children having a great time and somehow managing to coerce me into making them a promise to take them back the following year. However, I have not been able to deliver on my promise as the year after our trip to Brick Lane, we were out of the country on the actual date of the Mela, and the year after that I was misled into thinking the Mela had been cancelled. Little did I know that the council subsequently changed their decision and allowed the Baishakhi Mela to take place (In case you were wondering if this was an elaborate attempt at getting myself out of my promise to take the kids to the Mela, I have to say that I really did read it on the internet). So this year I had to take them no matter what.
The thing I do not quite understand is why the mela is held almost a month after Pohela Baishakh. It just seems that it would be more logical to set a date nearer to that of the actual New Year than a month later. Not that I'm complaining, it's just an observation. From what I could gather the events planned for the mela sounded delightful. We were looking forward to seeing the colourful procession of musicians, dancers and performers going through Brick Lane and on to Weavers Fields. The procession was also supposed to include a huge Bengali Tiger float, which would be surrounded by drummers and dancers. Last time we went as part of the parade, there was a bride and bridegroom dressed up in all their finery going down Brick Lane on a rickshaw. I also read that there would be a stage set up for an open air concert, a children's play area with a funfair, bouncy castles, clowns, jugglers etc. It even looked like the weather was going to co-operate and much to our pleasure it turned out to be a beautiful day with the sun shining and not a cloud to be seen on the horizon.
Being in the country and confirming the mela was taking place was definitely a step in the right direction for me but as happens with best laid plans, mine went slightly awry. Instead of being in Brick Lane at eleven o'clock in the morning, for a variety of reasons such as unexpected visitors, a migraine attack, revision for exams, we arrived at four in the afternoon! For the Baishakhi Mela, the whole of Brick Lane had been pedestrianised and we found people milling around the street. We had obviously missed the procession but that did not dampen our spirits as there were little stalls everywhere selling a huge variety of goods, from fruits and vegetables to arts and crafts.
It just felt good walking down the street hearing snatches of conversations in Bangla, listening to Bangla songs blaring from the shops lining the streets and seeing people dressed in shalwar kameez and saris. The sound of a man shouting 'chanachur' just made me smile. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine myself in Dhaka. How refreshing to be able to talk to the shop keepers and street vendors in Bangla.
My two daughters were excited to find a stall selling an assortment of rainbow coloured bangles while my son was trying to direct me to a man selling sugar cane juice. I felt like a kid in a candy store only it was not candy that was making my eyes light up but the chatpati and kacha amer bhorta that were on offer. Having indulged ourselves, we wandered further into the heart of Brick Lane hoping to discover more hidden treasures. Every few minutes my kids would exclaim, “Ma, look, they're selling daab”, or “can we have some mishti?” At one point we found an enclosed area with little stalls selling food from all over the world we were being offered Ethiopian 'injera', a large sourdough flatbread, Japanese 'tempura', Indian 'chicken tikka' and Brazilian 'feijoada' made with black beans, to name a few. Further inside the maze of stalls, were people selling jewellery, clothes, sandals, leather bags, t-shirts and a whole lot of nick-nacks. Needless to say we spent more time in this treasure trove than we had initially anticipated.
By this time it was already six o'clock in the evening and as the festivities were supposed to be drawing to a close by seven, we realised that we would probably not make to Weaver's Fields in time for the children's funfair or musical performance. Slightly disappointed but satisfied with our short but sweet expedition to Bangla Town, we made our way back to the station. It was very amusing to see the numerous 'deshi' restaurants vying for customers and calling out to people to come to their establishment and not their rivals. Declining offers to enjoy a fish or meat curry, we took a quick detour to a sweet shop and picked up some 'mishti' and could not resist purchasing a box of biriyani on the way home.
My children have now forgiven me for failing to take them to the Baishakhi Mela in Brick Lane the past two years and have extracted yet another vow from me to go the following year. Somehow this does not feel like much of a hardship to me...
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