Baishakh . . .
in pastoral moongleam
Syed Badrul Ahsan
That first sip of it promised something different. You might be forgiven for thinking that it was something akin to khejurer rosh – or date juice. But then, you do not get date juice in Baishakh. What I had in hand was a glassful of taaler rosh, with that hint of pungency, a certain sour sweetness that somehow convinced me I needed more of it. It was the day after Pahela Baishakh, in the absolute stillness of a pastoral morning in my village in Araihazar upazila of Narayanganj district. The caretaker of our home, a home that the family loves to descend on every now and then, had that jug of more of the juice in his hand. There was a happy gleam in his eyes as he poured another glass of it for me. Once I had downed it, a perceptible vision of beauty took hold of the senses in me. The world was beginning to take on an appearance of innocent charm. I knew I needed a third glass of that rather otherworldly taaler rosh. My family came in the way. My siblings, my sister-in-law and my riotous nephew and squealing nieces thought more of the juice would send me hurtling into torpor if not crude drunkenness.
That was part of my Baishakh celebrations this season. In life there comes a time when you must break free of all that is suffocatingly urban and go away into a world that is part of your imagination and yet could be existing in reality. For me, for my clan, Noagaon (that is our little village) is that imagination held forth by unblemished reality. Long before dawn, the birds – and there are varieties of them – break into song, loud and cheerful and soothing enough to make you climb out of bed and place yourself under an old mango tree and try making sense of the melody. Those birds sang on Pahela Baishakh. A strange aspect of the experience is in your not being able to spot the birds, for they are all safely ensconced on the high branches of the trees around you. But the songs they sing give you a lilt just the same. You hear those songs at dawn. And you hear them again at twilight, moments before the fireflies commence their festival of light around the pond and all across the family cemetery.
On Pahela Baishakh, a feast of a breakfast sent our spirits soaring. It was panta bhaat, the same my ancestors consumed with relish long years ago, that was placed on the table along with a variety of bhortas prepared with liberal doses of green and red chilli. That ilish bhaja you hear of in fables of old was there. So what was new about it? It was simply this: that all this panta-ilish was there before you in a bucolic ambience. In a sense, it was tradition that had come all the way to touch you, or the other way round, in circumstances not rendered hollow by an urbanisation of them. In Noagaon, a gentle breeze stirred the water in the pond, provoking the consequent ripples into assuming ever widening circles. And beside the ancient tamarind tree, on that grassy space by the pond, I stood and told my siblings' children the old tale of how, long ago at age two years and a half, I had sat there watching out for intruders, holding my grandmother's crisp, starched white saree as she took a dip in the water. The dip had turned out to be pretty long, enough to frighten me into thinking that my grandmother might have drowned. But she did not drown. I followed her back to the hut in cheerful mode, to sit beside her as she put the rice to boil on the mud stove. The descending evening promised a succulent rural dinner.
There are all the memories that well up in you when you link up with your roots. On Pahela Baishakh, the laughter that once burst forth from my mother, the good cheer which long ago defined my father, were images I built in the mind as I stood before their graves. It rained that night. In the grandeur of the lightning, in the signs of divinity carried by the winds, the act of remembering was one of pain. A village, yours or anyone else's, is forever a reminder of mortality. You count the number of graves. You recall the faces which years ago were on the bones in those graves. When you do, you note with striking sadness that the leaves of the trees keep falling, that the fall of one of those leaves will signify your own twilight.
I read no poetry on Pahela Baishakh. Religiosity was not what I had in mind. But as the three-quarter moon cast its pale beauty across the countryside, I led the children on a walk around the pond – to have them identify with nature in its post-daylight manifestation. A passing breeze sent the palm leaves trembling for joy. Somewhere in the distance, a weaver furiously worked away on his machine. We walked past my grandfather's grave (on the banks of the pond). A remembrance of his piety led to a sudden consciousness of my soon-to-be coming passage into old age.
There will be time for Pahela Baishakh, for moonlight, for the rustic taste of taaler rosh to reach an end. Life, when you think about it, turns abysmally pointless when the dead call out to you from their old graves. A sense of mortality is what takes hold of you in your village, even though the birds chirp in delight at dawn and at sundown.
(R) thedailystar.net 2011