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      Volume 12 |Issue 01| January 04, 2013 |


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One Off

Reminiscing about Old Fashioned Year-ends!

Aly Zaker

Stray thoughts cross my mind as I sit by the windows of my study in this season of gaiety in anticipation of yet another turn of the year. Usually celebration of such events as the New Year does not seem so important any more as it did when we were younger. I grew up from boyhood to adolescence in the small towns of Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan. We moved with our father as he got posted out to a variety of places in his government job. My father was bred in anglophile culture being educated and inducted into the civil service in British India. So we had a colonial habit of greeting the Gregorian New Year with the ceremonial cutting of a cake on the first of January. This of course had no connection with ushering in of the new year at its advent as Baba used to bring the cake home in the afternoon of the first of January from a confectioner where he would have usually ordered it on the previous day. The cake was not much to write home about. If it was a cake dedicated to the new year, then it would definitely have the icing of sugar in multiple colours and 'happy new year' written on top with a wavering hand. Sometimes, if a cake with icing was not available, Baba would bring a fruit cake. I usually feasted on such a cake. I loved the currents, black currents, and candied pieces of gourd in them. Usually my siblings and I never said happy new year to one another or anybody else until the afternoon of the first. The cake was the reason. Soon after we had polished it off, we would grin at each other and say 'happy new year'.

Having spent a few years in the mufassal towns of East Bengal, we finally made Dhaka our home. After a short stint in Wari we came to live in Gandaria. Here, we were not confined to the senior government officers' quarters anymore. So, the legacy of the British Raj was replaced by middle class Bengali way of life. The greeting of happy new year on the first of January here was hard to come by but we were sucked into various functions and festivals that the residents of Gandaria used to organise in those days. Prominent among these were a winter fair organised at the club ground of the East and Club. Various colourful shops used to embellish this fair and we flocked into them in the evenings. Durga Puja was a big event in autumn. There were other delightful stuff like cricket, football or badminton fests. The celebration of new year in the manner that our children do was a far cry in those days. My first taste of Christmas and new year celebration was had when I was in the Notre Dame College and some of my Christian friends invited me to their homes. It was delightfully different. I tried to join in the Christmas Carol and also homemade songs composed on new year by the community. While in Dhaka, we discovered that even in East Bengal cream cakes like in Calcutta were available and were mighty proud to carry some to our grandfather's house there if our visit coincided with the celebration of Christmas or new year. Much later, while in university, our group comprising five/seven close friends used to embark upon a long walk on the night of the 31st defying the chill of the winter. The walk started from the residential halls of the Dhaka University and down to the Intercontinental Hotel, Shahbagh, the road in front of Dhaka Club and via Gulistan through the Nawabpur road to Islampur. At Islampur we had our fill of the new year's feast, Murog Polao, at the restaurant famously known as Palwan's Biriyani House. Then we went down to Sadarghat. River Buriganga was still not polluted like it is now. The wintry breeze was welcoming. The breakfast by the river comprised piping hot 'Bhapa' and 'Chitui' pitha. We walked back to Cafe Taj at Moghbazar and had our cup of tea there. I still remember a fantastic new year celebration by the same group of friends in a country boat travelling downstream in the river Buriganga and singing all the popular Bengali modern songs and an occasional English song by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones all the way in chorus. What a wonderful experience! The feast on the boat comprised Biriyani of Cafe Taj, which was a delectable fare those days.

Those, I think, were very original and delightful ways of celebrating the new year. Each passing year opened up a new vista of possibility as we proceeded on the path of political turbulence towards freedom of a nation. Our last new year within the confines of Pakistan was celebrated in 1970. We were already smelling freedom. So, our inimitably simplistic celebration got a tail wind. Therefore there was a longer walk. More vibrant greetings. A boat trip to Narayanganj through the night et al. Oh what a New Year that was.

Personally I never got into the jazz and glitter of the new year celebration until such time that I landed a job as an advertising executive. No regrets, because I have the memory of the good old simpler celebrations etched deep into my heart. No amount of extravaganza could take that away from me. That said, I also enjoy the celebrations held now with lot more grandeur, albeit; from a distance. I see the younger generation busily engaged in welcoming the new year. And try to feel the warmth of their brisk activities on the last night of the year through to the wee hours of the morning.

I sit in one corner of my study cosily ensconced in my favourite chair placed before the wide window. I think that the year gone by had seen a lot of tumult, political; professional; criminal and otherwise. How I wish 2013 would be different. How I wish we had lesser worries, simpler pleasures, heartier laughter. I see the night of the thirty-first give in to the morning of the first and now as the morning breaks, the east glows with the rising sun, I close my eyes to ponder on yet another turn of the year hopefully from the worse to the better. And then the Sparrows, my friends, emerge on the window ledge and tell me that all was not so bad after all.

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