Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home





Book review

Book for Boishak

As Sabrina F Ahmad mentioned in her book review last week, there was once a time when Bengali was a language to be spoken in and not used in any form of academic pursuit. Hindu scholars used Sanskrit, and Muslims used Urdu. One key reason was that Bengali was not very well-developed. Nevertheless, no one seemed eager to attempt an improvement either. When did that change? When did writing and publishing in Bengali become the norm, rather than the exception? While essentially works of fiction, Indian author Sunil Ganguly's books Shei Shomoy and Prothom Alo provides a wealth of information on the matter.

Shei Shomoy deals with the era from the 1830s to the 1870s. It tells the story of a Bengali Brahmin more interested in popularizing the Bengali language than in taking the comfortable, well-paying job of a college principal. The fellow's name is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Although hardly a leading character, the story follows his efforts at social reform and proper evaluation of the Bengali language. The book has other prominent people of the past as characters, too. The author takes us through the life and works of one Michael Madhusudan Dutt; a man who started out with a contempt of all things Bengali, and yet by the time of his death had become the greatest Bengali poet of the times.

Also mentioned are other accomplished scholars of the time who did not think it beneath them to write in the very language that they spoke Bankim Chandra and Dinbandhu Mitra, to name just two. By the time Shei Shomoy wraps up, the Bengali society is largely free of the superstitions and unjust customs it held on to less than half a century ago. People like Vidyasagar and Madhusudan are old and have done all that they could for the betterment of Bengali literature. We are also given the news of a son being born to one Debendranath Tagore. Debendranath, a wealthy landlord, names his son Rabindranath.

Prothom Alo starts less than three decades after the conclusion of Shei Shomoy. While the focus here is more on the slow uprising of a freedom movement, we still get to know about farther developments to the Bengali literature. We are told of Bengali plays being staged on a regular basis, and slowly gaining popularity among people from all walks of life. The biggest icon of Bengali literature, Rabindranath Tagore, is presented at the various stages of his life. We see him go from a young romantic poet to a staunch nationalist. In parallel, we meet a rather introvert Barrister by the name of M. K Gandhi, eager to introduce a form of civil disobedience which he believes can earn them freedom.

Since Prothom Alo is more about the struggle for independence, we learn of Rabindranath's contributions to that end; from writing patriotic songs to actually leading processions. We are told the tale of a young and determined Professor of Physics called Jagadish Chandra Bose, eager to prove to the world that Bengal also has something to offer to Science and Technology. On a not so happy not, we learn how the British first sowed the seed of communalism in order to make things safer for themselves.

Prothom Alo ends at a stage where the youth of India is tired of just talking about freedom, and seriously contemplating direct action. Tagore has retreated to his refuge in Shanti Niketon, slowly detaching himself from all matters of the outside world.

Should anyone be interested in a history of the Bengali culture, as well as that of the sub-continent, I would highly recommend these two books. While intended to be works of fiction, the amount of research author Sunil Ganguly did shows. Although not true to every word uttered by each prominent character, he still captures the essence of those men. It's fun, exciting and knowledgeable all at the same time. A must-read if you want to read the story of the Bengal Renaissance.

Send your opinions, critiques, queries, as well as your entries for our 500 Feat to rs.readers@gmail.com Contest entries must not exceed 500 words, and will be judged on the basis of Content, Readability, Language, and Style. Best of Luck!

By Mohammad Hammad Ali


At the end of the two-hour in Alliance Français, I always find it very relaxing to sit back in the café and chat with friends. Not that we don't chat in class, but at least in the café, nobody asks us to shut up!

Anyways, like every Thursday, a bunch of my friends and I were sitting in the café after class, censoriously scrutinizing every human being in that room.

"Isssss…look at that woman. Her kameez looks like a maxi, man! I pity her, seriously!" my closest friend laughed, after carefully checking that she had worn her shortest kameez that day.

"Guys! Check out that hot dude! The one who just entered the art exhibition room! Did you see him?" another friend piped in enthusiastically.

"No! Damn! Was he good? Let's go check him out!" was my equally enthusiastic reply. So we all got up and went to the adjacent room where an art exhibition was going on.

The 'hot dude' turned out to look like something unprintable, as my best friend put it. So when we were done making fun of him, we started checking out the paintings.

"I really don't get art. People actually buy this trash for thousands of bucks! Even a monkey can paint this!" a friend said incredulously after seeing the price tag on each of the paintings. For the first time in my life, I was out of criticism. Eventually, my friends' parents came to pick them up. Like always, my parents were late. So I decided to check out the rest of the paintings myself.

As far as art is concerned, I have always found it difficult to even draw a flower properly. So understanding modern art for me is really out of the question. Normally, I am as hypocritical and carping of things I don't understand as all of my other friends. But there was something about the picture in front of me that really intrigued me. It had hypnotized me ever since I had entered the room. I had a feeling that the picture had a story to tell, and something inside me was very interested in that story. God knows why.

The picture itself was fairly simple. It showed a whirlwind with the faint figure of a person trapped inside it. Outside the twister, everything was pitch black. And inside, there was a magnificent show of colours. The painter had put in every shade of every colour one can think of. The person inside the twister was barely visible because of the colours. But the eyes…

The painter had paid particular attention to the eyes. As I walked closer to the painting, the nuance on the canvas fascinated me beyond my wildest imagination. For the first time, a genuine "wow" escaped my lips. Somehow, I felt like I was unraveling a mystery. There was a hidden meaning in each shade of each colour on that canvas. And at that moment, I was obsessed with finding out that meaning.

The whirlwind was a combination of passionate reds, soothing blues, pristine whites, and so many other colours. Come to think of it, life itself is like a whirlwind. There's every shade, every colour of emotion in it. It's a roller coaster ride, with its own ups and downs, highs and lows. Nobody's life is void of love, hatred, hypocrisy, selfishness. Every human being experiences a bit of each at some point. Life teaches them that. Slowly. Painfully.

My life was exactly like the whirlwind I was looking at. Full of deceit. Full of double standard actions and reactions. I had to keep up an act 24/7 with my friends just to be a part of the 'cool' gang. Why? Why did I do it? Why did I pretend to be the 'dumb cool girl' that I'm not? At that moment, even I was confused. And yet, even in my messed up life, there was a shade of happiness. A shade of comfort and innocence. Reading a book made me happy. When my parents gave me 15 minutes of their busy life, I felt happy. Even an insular selfish human being like me felt happy after giving her Twix Chocolate Bar to a poor beggar. Come to think of it, I really do have every colour in my life. Just like the whirlwind.

Looking at the eyes in the painting made me feel like I was looking at a mirror. It was void of emotions, absolutely blank. As though waiting for the onlooker to put in their emotions in it. And I did.

Suddenly I could see the same anger that I was feeling in those eyes. Anger towards my parents for not picking me up yet. Anger towards my best friend for talking obscene trash about me behind my back. And yet somehow happy at the thought of the time I had spent with my boyfriend that day. I could see my exact feelings for him in those eyes. I could see my pride at winning the table tennis championship in school. I could see it all.

Suddenly my cell started ringing. It was my mother.
"I've sent the car five minutes ago. It should be there by now."
"Okay Ma. Bye."

I looked back at the painting. It really had been an exhilarating experience, just looking at it. I wondered if the virtuoso behind this painting had felt the same emotions painting it that I had felt seeing it. It amazed me how the painting had just reflected my own life back to me. And then I saw the name of the painting: Reflection. It really did make sense.

By desert_rain

BD Bytes

Boishakh special

Once again Boishakh has come to our lives with all her dazzle and grandeur. Pohela Boishakh is one of the most colourful festivities of the Bengali culture. On this day people from all walks of life celebrate the Noboborsho by wearing traditional saris and panjabis with red and white in prominence, but recently young people are also choosing other colours like blue and orange to create variety.

The Ramna botomul
So, after getting all decked up, where do these people go on the day of Pohela Boishakh? The answer is plain and simple; the Ramna botomul and obviously the DU campus. The Fine Arts Institute arranges special programmes for this occasion, which stretch beyond April 14. They arrange for baul gaan and many other cultural programmes which represent the rural Bangladesh.

The Boishakhi procession
The Boishakhi procession arranged by the teachers and students of the Fine Arts Institute is one of the most attractive events of Pohela Boishakh. This colourful procession is said to be more popular than the musical programmes at the botomul by Chayanot. This procession was introduced by the young students of Fine Arts in 1989 (Bengali year 1397).

Rural Boishakh and halkhata
Now let's take a look at the rural version of Pohela Boishakh. While we city birds celebrate Boishakh by wearing saris and going to the botomul the rural people also have a special way to celebrate. The rural businessmen start and end the business year according to Bangla dates. So when the year ends they open their halkhata to calculate the business transactions that took place throughout the past year. This practice of halkhata is also observed by the city businessmen also, mainly the jewelry shops. During halkhata the businesspeople invite their loyal clients and entertain them with sweets.

Boishakhi mela
The Boishakhi mela is another aspect of Pohela Boishakh, which also demands a fair part of our attention. On the day of Pohela Boishakh, people go to the colourful Boishakhi melas for a taste of the festivities. Various clubs and organizations arrange Boishakhi melas to celebrate Boishakh. The Nagor dola is the main attraction of a Boishakhi mela. Children and young people scream and yell to their hearts content when the nagor dolas spin frantically. The experience is no less than that on a roller coaster.

The origin of Bangla year
Now let's take a little peek into history. The Bengali calendar was introduced through an ordinance promulgated by Akbar the Great, the renowned Moghul emperor. The calendar was originally known as Tarikh-e-Elahi and was introduced on the 10th of March in the 29th in 1585 A. D. and the 10th of Rabiul Awwal in 963 A.H. Abul Fazal, the renowned scholar and a minister of Akbar the Great explains that the use of the Hijrah Era was unfair to the peasantry, because 31 lunar years were equal to 30 solar years and the revenue was collected on the basis of lunar years, whereas the harvest depended on the solar ones. So Akbar felt the need of introducing a uniform scientific, workable and acceptable system of calculating days and months through a reformed calendar.

By Durdana Ghias


home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

© 2005 The Daily Star