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By Faria Sanjana & Illustration: Ronny

PAHELA Baishakh must be one of the greatest festivals celebrated by Bangalis. While almost everyone is overjoyed at the chance to celebrate, many have an ulterior motive behind their enthusiasm. You could say it is less about welcoming the new year and more about the associated perks.

The mad rush begins
Visiting the Ramna Batamul can be a trying moment of your life trying to get past the chaotic crowds in front of Ramna Park. The mad rush and the tight squeeze would make even an atom suffocate. There seems no end to those people who are ready to shove you, sometimes so hard that you could end up pretty far from your destined place!

But finally once you get inside and occupy a place to stand (sitting is a far off dream) you start to wonder if all that hard work was worth it to go through the same old songs repeated every year.

It gets more annoying when the beggars come and pester you and starts droning 'Afa kisu den afaa'. Just to shoo them away, when you bring out your purse you see that it isn't there. What happened to it? Obviously, a pick pocket got the better of you and managed to usurp it.

Change of scene to the same scene
Not able to withstand all that frustration, you end up in a 'Boishakhi Mela' at Dhanmondi field. Now, this is the place where people can make quick bucks just in a matter of a few hours. Let's start off with cheap bangles that girls get so hyped about. It is simple glass of dubious quality. Yes, I still say this despite being a girl cause those bangles are bound to break sooner than later and who knows if little pieces of glass get into your delicate skin and injure you!

And then there are wooden miniature showpieces. Almost everybody buys them in the mela. I wonder what they do with them once they get home as very few are ever seen later taking pride of place in a display case. Without doubt the most common selling item is the 'Ektara'. You can keep it for a maximum of two days. You even fiddle with it for a while hoping for a shot at the next Bangladeshi Idol. In the end it sits in a dark corner collecting dust. But no worries there, you can always send them to someone abroad as a souvenir and flaunt your 'culture'.

Rice turns to gold
Recently I heard from a friend that they sell 'Panta Bhaat' in the mela with each plate costing Tk.150. Whether that is the actual price or not, demand for rice drowned in water with a piece of hilsha fish comes into high demand. There are people who eagerly pay for it and surprisingly actually eat it. What with fish using formalin as deodorant to keep their decaying skin fresh and rice dipped in water from who knows where, this is a major leap of faith. To me this seems to be an offence of the highest degree. First you draw out that much money from your purse (if you're lucky enough to still have it with you!) and then you eat that thing made of hundreds of unhygienic ingredients. Only if Mr. Rokon Ud Doula wasn't on his holiday, it sure would have been his ultimate day out!

Love is in the air
Pahela Boishakh should be called Bangali Valentines Day nowadays. You don't need a keen sight to see couples in sarees and panjabis hanging out around you with a certain glazed look in their eyes. It is the day when the guy has to compliment his girl willingly or otherwise about the 'taant' saree that she buys in the mela. It's white and red and not different from all the other red and white saris seen this day. The girl in turn has to flatter the guy about how handsome and dashing he looks in his new panjabi and sunglasses! Then there are the less fortunate ones who're all alone but do not intend to be. THye are the singles wanting to make an addition to their lives. Now, these guys deserve some serious honor. Despite all their desperate attempts in order to trap a girl what with remarks like 'Aj amar dil khola' and 'Apu contact number please', they don't lose hope and still keep on trying. It's this indomitable spirit that keeps Bangladesh alive.

But despite the bad and the ugly mentioned hitherto, Pahela Baishakh has equal measures of the good to even out the score. This celebration is a colorful part of our cherished heritage in which it gives people an opportunity to revive the Bangali tradition. No matter what, one should always look forward to the Bengali New Year and have a blast!

Shubho Noboborsho everyone!



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