Joyless Pahela Baishakh, gloom at iftar tables | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 16, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:11 AM, April 16, 2021

Joyless Pahela Baishakh, gloom at iftar tables

When last year the country faced for the first time a Pahela Baishakh indoors, or the first day of Ramadan without family and celebration, the new reality was adopted with much gusto.

It was the right thing to do, it was the duty of the responsible citizens to stay indoors and spend moments that are by nature meant to be shared with loved ones or alone. Companies came up with branded content encouraging people to do this part, while #staycation trended on social media. There was a genuine "war effort" to beat the pandemic and a belief that the pandemic can be beaten.

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It was also supposed to be a one-time thing -- or so we thought. "This time next year…" was a wishful thinking uttered by the mouths of deprived hearts.

Wishes have, however, not been granted this year. And as the government-imposed lockdown drove people indoors, the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable set in.

Boutiques who had held out hope against odds and brought out fresh new Baishakh collections that meant to paint the city red, felt their hearts rising to their throats.

This is not a one-time thing -- this is the new normal as long as the population is not successfully vaccinated and the air around is poisonous miasma.

If nothing else, the "gusto" to beat the pandemic was markedly less this year. It has been replaced with a higher infection rate than what we had around this time last year, and a record number of deaths.

Last year people went up to their rooftops to celebrate. Colours were worn and front-cameras were taken out. Families huddled in corners, maintaining social distance from other families, enjoying the skies within their own space.

This year, the rooftops lay empty. The first day of the Bangla calendar coincided with the first day of the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, but even then, the absence of merriment stood out stark.

Yesterday, as the glowing afternoon sun mellowed out in this writer's neighbourhood, a lone teenager flew a kite -- the only human being in any semblance of a festive activity.

Minutes later the kite got tangled in a cloud of trees, dashing the young man's small efforts to enjoy.

This year, death hung heavy, and prayers were fervent, intensifying into a feverish pitch that buzzed in the silence of the city.

"Father passed yesterday morning after two cardiac arrests," said a friend, in response to new year's greetings. In another family, yet another father who was hooked to a ventilator, breathed his last, leaving his two grade-school daughters to forever remember Pahela Baishakh as the day they lost the shade over their heads.

April 14, 2021 hit a grim record number of deaths due to Covid-19 -- 96 families lost their loved ones. Never before had the number been higher. Yesterday, that number stood at 94.

The joy and hope that embodies the very spirit of Baishakh and Ramadan, the fresh starts and clean slates promised by these two months, possibly eluded these 96 families.

In other homes, iftar tables had empty chairs -- sometimes one, sometimes more. Yesterday, the Covid-19 death toll in the country crossed the 10,000-mark. Ten thousand empty chairs that could not have the odd combination of panta-bhaat and ilish for iftar that was on the menu of many, yesterday.

Without them to share the joy of the occasion with, what is even joy?

As heart-shattering, life-changing grief looms large, the smaller grief – like the grief of having to break the fast alone, away from family – are swallowed, tucked away in a hidden coat pocket. Reluctant gratitude seeps in -- gratitude for a roof, for enough food to fill the belly, for healthy, and safety of loved ones.

After all, it could have been worse.


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