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    Volume 11 |Issue 01| January 06, 2012 |


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The Months of Dew

Despite the winter bites, Bangladeshis await and plan this season because of its jovial specialities

Tamanna Khan

The December morning of Dhaka shivers like an old man as a thin film of fog tightly wraps the capital around. Akin to soldiers, the walkers of Dhanmondi, geared with warm winter clothes, sprint and jog a couple of rounds by the lake. A Khan is one such walking-enthusiast. Rain, hail or storm, he never misses the first exercise of the day. Besides, winter offers him a special treat — warm, smoky pithas, sold at the road-side stalls— a must, after an hour’s jog. “It reminds me of my childhood, bringing back the scent of my village home,” says the sixty-nine-year-old walker, A Khan, as he dips a chitai in a bowl of plum juice.

Fanush (lantern kites) festival, during winter, spreads a mystical aura in the cold foggy nights. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

His walking companion, M Ali, adds with a sheepish grin that, when it comes to winter delicacies, it is difficult to abide by the restriction of age and health. The truth in Ali's confession is evident in the myriads of mouth-watering recipes, cooked and prepared in Bangladeshi homes, as winter specialities. Take for instance, retired bank official, Mizanur Rahman, who considers it compulsory to invite his brothers and sisters and their families at least once during winter. According to him, his nieces, nephews and grandchildren need to learn the taste of good Bengali cuisine, such as the duck-curry and vegetable-polau.

His careerist nieces, on the other hand, try to carry over the tradition in a different manner. Not having the time and skills to cook wholesome winter meals, they try to arrange outings for their succeeding generations. “As long as my mejo-mama (second maternal uncle) was alive and well, he would always arrange picnics for us. I am not a good organiser as he was. So instead I try to take my niece and nephews to fairs, cinemas and other places of interest during winter,” states Munia, Rahman's thirty-year old development activist niece.

When it comes to fun activities, the winter vacation beats summer in Bangladesh. The obvious reason is the pleasant, comfortable weather. With the exception of a few days of a cold wave or two Bangladeshi winter is warm and almost sweet, given one carries light winter clothes, to be used when necessary. The temperature remains between the tolerable degrees of 17 to 27. With no scorching or sweaty heat or sudden rain, winter is the ideal time for taking trips across the country, opines Natasha Haider, an employee of a research organisation and an occasional adventurer. “I like travelling economically and this is only possible during winter as you do not have to book an air-conditioned bus to travel long distance,” she explains.

She also points out that it is easier to take leave during the month of December by adding a few days from pending leave with Christmas and New Year vacation. “Besides, the tour companies that conduct tours within the country also offer their packages during this season,” she says. Shudipto Das, moderator of Through The Lens, an online photographic club, confirms Natasha's assertion. “We organise trips all through out the year, but since most schools and colleges remain closed during this time (December- January), participation increases,” says Shudipto.

Winter vacation, for Bengali medium schools, is a homework-free break. Except for the villainous academic result (for some) that comes out during this month, December is the best month for Bangladeshi children.

To many, winter means listening to the warble of the migratory birds that flock the country's lakes and haors. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Md Mohaimul Haq Shaon, a student of class six, has come to visit Dhaka from Rangpur for ten days before his school opens on January 1, 2012. With heavily oiled and neatly combed hair, Shaon, dressed in blue half-shirt, grey shorts and a rubber sandals, is the perfect picture of a village school-boy on his first trip to the capital. Nabbed by his uncle, Mohammad Shahbuddin, a farmer from Hazaribag, Company Ghat, Shaon, who has just visited the National Museum, meekly declares that he liked the earthen pottery there.

Like Shaon, Fiha a student of class-4 at Will’s Little Flower School, is also visiting different interesting places around Dhaka. Pradip, a young professional working at a pharmaceutical firm, uses his lunch break to provide his family and Fiha's a short Dhaka tour. “Every winter, since my marriage, my family and I have gone outside Dhaka for a vacation,” he says. “This year a relative from Bogra is visiting us. We are showing her around Dhaka. And as the final examination of my neighbour's children is over, I have brought them along too,” he adds. The group of eight discusses their next destination, as they come out of the National Museum on a weekday afternoon.

In fact, even on a weekday, the crowd in museums and children's parks is noticeable. While recently winter has quite unofficially become the wedding season in Bangladesh, its relation to cultural festivals is age old. An official of the National Museum, explains that other than the weather, a lot of cultural activities spring up targeting the Victory Day on December. He shows the booking status of the two auditoriums and exhibition area of the museum, for the month of December and January — full almost every other day.

However, it is not just Victory Day; traditionally, the agriculture-based Bangladesh economy is affluent during the Bengali winter months of Poush and Magh. After Nabanno or the harvest season in Agrahayon (late autumn), farmers usually have some extra cash to spend. Thereby, fairs, jatras (theatre), pala-gaaner ashor (song festivals) and other village festivals are held during this time. These have taken up new modern looks in the city. Therefore, it has become a norm to find new and interesting festivals – folk song, children's theatre, classical song, recitation, debate, short films and many more – add flair each year to Dhaka's cultural scene.

Even the usual Dhakaite female comes out of her scocoon during winter for a change, trying her hand at the most preferred winter sport — badminton. In every open space, field and rooftops, bamboo poles holding a net and loosely wired electric bulbs spring up. Asked why badminton is played only during winter, electrical engineer and a seasonal badminton player, Elisun, appears confused. “I myself have asked this question a number of times, but never found an answer. Probably, it has something to do with the wind or the weather,” she says. Elisun and other girls of her group often join their male friends in the evening matches, at times proving to be unbeatable opponents.

The last but not the least is the cliché of how Bangladeshi politics heats up to keep the weather warm during winter. With all the street demonstration and agitation, burning tires and blazing vehicles, it is not a miracle that the temperature of Bangladeshi winter cannot dip too far below. Here is at least one positive outcome of bad politics. Thus, winter remains, despite its chilly bites and misty mornings, a much awaited season for Bangladeshis.



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