Life Streams of Rural Bengal
The Bengali New Year 1419 has started - full of culture, heritage and pride. People from every class and profession celebrated more than anything else. The rural Bengal is dressed in bright colours. I have been to a rural haat (market) few days back and it took me straight back to my simple yet happening childhood memories which I'm sure will make readers' nostalgic.
The accounts of produce at the rural Bengal are interrelated with river, boats, smiling crops and above all with the hardships of farmers. There is a trend of sowing the crops on due time, nurturing the field and then harvest. Till date, rural people go to the haat (rural market) on specific days of the week, where farmers' lives are intertwined. The way a new season spreads out the message of a new crop, the way soil takes different colours and shapes in different seasons, the same way a New Year wipes out everything that is old. From the ancient period of time in Bengal, there is the trend of celebrating the Bengali New Year.
All across the country, the specific days for haat are either Saturday or Tuesday or some other day in a week. Let me take you to a remote haat for a different kind of refreshment - Natuarpara, a remote delta in Sirajganj's Kazipur upazila is our destination.
I came closer to the haat on a motorbike but then I had to use a local horse ride, because there were no other form of transport available. I was travelling to Kazipur haat, which is targeted at the people of at least six unions. My partner on the ride was a farmer who was travelling from Pirgacha. I was so curious to know what was there in his sack. “Egg plants”, he replied. But does he get fair price for his produce? “Sometimes yes, and sometimes no”, replied the farmer. “The communication system is poor,” added the farmer.
Nowadays, we don't see haats like this one. This haat had the ancient look. Merry-go-round, clay dolls, colourful household stuffs - all these make up a new rhythm in the rural life. I could notice blacksmiths and potters. These images are now becoming hard to find even in the rural areas.
It's an ancient haat spread over fifteen acres of land. The lost heritages of Bengali culture can be found in this haat. All regular and simple stuffs are to be found here where we could taste the real rural life and livelihood. I found a man selling the local and very ancient food, Gulgula which I also ate during my childhood. The man was selling them at one taka each.
The rural life is composed of simple things which are very rare in urban setting. Everyone should very well remember the traditional patali gur (date palm jaggery) of the rural haat. I had the opportunity to talk with the gur-sellers. “Is sugarcane jaggery (Aankh er Gur)?” “Yes.”
“Any hydros in it?” “No.”
“What's the price?” “700 gm is Tk. 40.”
There is a way to find the hydros if someone pours it to the jaggery, it will look white; otherwise it'll have a blackish look when it's pure. I was searching for a specific history of this haat. When did all these begin here? At close, I found an old man who was also busy with selling gur. He says he's more than sixty years old and claims that the haat is running since he was even born.
We don't see wood-bar umbrella now a days, not even the people who used to make those. It is such a unique feature of the rural Bengal. I talked with the makers of it. They said the price is only Tk. 150. The makers earn around Tk. 1000 from the two haat-days. In the past, oilmen used to sell mustard oil and they used to come to the haat with their tin-boxes full of mustard oil. I was so amazed to find one seller, but he was different from the others from the past.
“What's this?” “Mustard oil.”
“How did you make this oil?” “I bought it.”
“How much?” “One KG is Tk. 140.”
Nowadays, unlike past times, the producers are not the sellers. They buy it from others. Different kinds of spices, and pulses were also found in the haat. It was so beautiful to smell the traditional flavour, which gave me more energy to walk across the whole haat to find more interesting things. These common images of rural life took me fifty years back. I'm sure people who have firm roots in the villages, they all have clear memories of rural haat and certainly would become nostalgic.
The rural haat simply means a remote yet exceptional gathering. I come from the Chandpur district. After my final exams at the school, I used to go to my grandfather's village, Gobindia. And then my uncle used to take me to Rajar-haat at the end of the week. The diversity in the haat that I've seen around fifty years back, this Natuarpara haat is quite similar to that one. This haat really reminds me of the old one I saw during my childhood. It really brings back childhood memories. It's really an occasion to become nostalgic.
During the time of unstoppable childhood, colourful stuff really attracted us more than anything else. Those were available in this haat too . There were so many things to see and I planned to buy seven wood-apples from a farmer who demanded only Tk. 100. I was ready to pay him Tk. 1000, but the honest farmer said he won't take a single penny extra. This is a good example of how honest and uncomplicated the farmers of this country are. Yet we neglect them. I forced him to accept Tk. 1000. I felt so lucky to see such an honest and committed farmer in the flesh.
Once upon a time, there were haats which had only indigenous or local fruits. Today, I don't get news of these kinds of special arrangements. The fruit haat of Narsingdi's Jessore is still carrying the heritage. I also spoke to some fruit sellers.
“These are fresh ones from our orchards. They are all pure.”
“You haven't sprayed any chemicals, right?” “No.”
“You haven't used anything so that it ripens fast?” “No.”
I also found a cow-haat inside the Natuarpara haat. Saturday is the day for cow haat. These cows come from the northern districts of Bangladesh. They are bought from the southern part. It was a huge haat where around 7,000 to 8,000 cows are sold.
Like the previous days, pure milk is still to be found amply. Once there was the bartering system of milk against agricultural goods. Not anymore. I offered a man to drink one KG of milk and he just did it like it was not even a task for him! People gave him a big applause!
The rural life has revolutionized. I'm afraid that in near future the traditional look of the haat won't exist. Once upon a time, there were Baul singers in the haat, today who are not there anymore with their dotara (rural string instrument). Technology has entered the rural life, as well. To my utter surprise, I found a cyber café inside the haat. Farmers were loading songs on their mobile phones and some others were writing CDs. I talked with the owner of the café.
“So, you have the internet facility here?” “Yes.”
“Generally, you load songs on the cell phones?”
“Yes, we also write CDs for people.”
An old farmer was waiting inside the café.
“Chacha, how are you?”
“Will you load songs on your cell phone?”
“What songs do you want for your phone?”
“Songs from the film, Beder Meye Josna.”
It was great fun talking with him. He paid 40 taka to the owner to load 1 GB of song, 200 songs that is. It's really nice to know that farmers are now being entertained in this manner. Also, he's paying for his entertainment. It's an upgrade to his livelihood status.
Haat (rural market) doesn't just belong to the farmers, rather it's the meeting spot of rural souls from every walk of rural life, where everyone, rich or marginal, had the same right and access. There were blacksmith, potter, fisher, cobbler, and people from every profession. I found a traditional barber in the Natuarpara haat. The barber who had tin-shade over his place was charging Tk. 20 for shaving however I found another barber who was sitting on the ground, and next to him, was charging Tk. 5 only for the same job! It was both interesting and funny to see the discrimination in such close distance.
At the outset of the New Bangla Year 1419, I convey my utmost greetings to all people of the rural community, in whose hands the ancient Bengali culture and heritage still remain alive.