Photo: Zahedul I Khan
a Class Act by a Class Apart
The Pahela Baishakh festivities of contemporary times seem a world apart compared to yesteryears. For those experiencing the event in the country year in year out, it may be easy to be dismissive and declare that it was routine.
But not quite so for those who were not fortunate to be here in this calendar month for several years in succession. In other words, it was nothing short of a pleasant surprise to experience the advent of the Bangla New Year after all these years in a manner unprecedented. Having lived abroad for more than a decade, this is an occasion worth cherishing knowing full well the celebration of the kind or the degree of it may have not been in existence ten years back.
For those of you with the “year in year out” experience, transformations in the way that the Bangla New Year is welcomed over the years have been, at best, gradual without the general unanimity or parity in the degree of celebrations all around.
Time may be the best healer; it could also be the best dealer---of wounds, emotions in the former and solutions, adaptations and adjustments in the latter.
Many may not remember, or even acknowledge the hint of taboo in the form of shades of cultural elitism that always seemed to discourage the wayside, or not too enlightened bystander, to indulge in more than the perfunctory interest in poetry and song sessions, books and publications and (dare to) attire colourfully specifically for the occasion.
It is easy to see that the barrier has now been dismantled and its debris nowhere in sight. Young and old, rich and poor alike seem to have mustered enough bravado to see to it that their entitlement to celebrate their very own Nobo Borsho should no longer be tainted and wrested away from them for inauspicious reasons of exclusivity.
The quick, if not hasty, exit of the myth and fallacy of selective entertainment, or more appropriately, myth and fallacy of entertainment for a selective few also heralds the new era of Nobo Borsho for the never acclaimed or unsung citizenry whose attempts in cultural elevation either went away a begging or may have never seen the light of day!
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
Stuttering attempts at cultural elevation did not stop the average Bangladeshi in laying claim on his or her legitimate share of good, clean fun on a tempered down sober Bangalee celebration. It is a transformation that was long overdue, breaking away from the monotonous drone and decades old perception of celebrating the New Year.
Amidst the hullaballoo of gaiety, it did not matter if the ice cream was paid for at the posh parlour or on the street to the vendor, or the punjabi in an expensive upscale store or stitched over a time span of three months or the cotton sari from the wayfarer or bargained for at a handicraft outlet. The commonality was also not in the breakaway from tradition and being under the intoxication of expensive alcohol or the no holds barred gaiety in the parks and streets.
That's the best way to describe it – an event of gaiety and not a gala event of grandeur carefully crafted by the lower or middle class and willfully made inconspicuous by the absence of pomp or spectacle that tends to shoo away than evince participation of all and sundry. This is indeed one page in the life book of the designers of the daylong event – the lower and middle class of society. They are the ones that proved that the inalienable rights of joviality were not of any one class alone.
It was as if their camaraderie of omission was in the lack of abilities often perceived as being granted – in consummate recitation of Tagore or Nazrul poems or in the lip synching of songs from illustrious singers.
The commonality was more in the manufacture of little nothings fashioned over a prolonged time span that ranged from wearing colourful cotton saris and jewellery – be it imitation or earthen – to eating in earthen ware with or without green chilly as “sides” in the mandatory ilish and pantha cuisine (inevitably short of the pinch of salt yet almost made up by onion dipped in vinegar), and youngsters trying to stealthily pry open the container of sweets earmarked only for visits. This is inexpensive, yet every bit joyous, quality fun, befitting the arrival of the New Year.
For once, a cultural event was not made unnecessarily confrontational with religion. During the daylong celebration, those who felt the need to offer their prayers quickly completed it when the time came, either independently or jointly, perhaps even thanking the Almighty for the unifying occasion than seeing any shred of conflict. Indeed, for the truly faithful, there is positivity in seeing the glass half full of uniting factors than perceiving it to be half empty – devoid of commonalities.
For once, a cultural event was not being made belligerently political. It was like the import of Orange Revolution of Ukraine or People Power movement in the Philippines, without the political trappings – the unity made strong through the colour, lyrics and commonality of the citizenry refusing to be mired in the overly gregarious absurdities endemic in observing the advent of the Gregorian calendar here at Dhaka.
Transpose only the niceties to the Pahela Baishakh in Bangladesh and the busy preoccupation of going in and out of impromptu or organized cultural gatherings, restaurants, coffee and ice cream parlours without being irate over the absence of sweets and the fact that they were not playing Bangla songs. There's always a multitude of reasons to be happy about.
No one was willing to fall prey to nuances, innuendos or insinuations. To say that the moment was precious would be overstating it. To say that it was private would be putting it mildly. To say nothing would be just right. And that's exactly what most does – while away until midnight, noncommittal and oblivious of loyalties and dogma– and the good humorist unable to resist the temptation of asking boyishly if all of this was for ushering the second of Boishakh …. or the first!