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     Volume 8 Issue 65 | April 17, 2009 |

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The Spirit of Baishakh

The first day of the Bangla New Year is celebrated with characteristic splendour. The day begins for all as the very first rays of the sun hit the ground. The Dhaka University campus area is filled with music, colourful rallies, street vendors selling glass bangles, sweetmeats, sugarcane juice, wood and clay jewellery, and of course the very recent addition to the streets of Dhaka - ‘petis' sandwiches. Pahela Baishakh, today, is much more than just a Government holiday on the calendar. It is a day of celebration for people from all walks of life; a day, indeed, when the past is allowed to cast away, the future embraced with open arms and the present lived with a sense of identity.

Elita Karim
Photos: Zahedul I Khan
A massive dinosaur-like creature slowly takes shape for the rally.

It is a yearly routine for 25-year-old Nazneen Omar and her friends to visit Charukala on Pahela Baishakh. Clad in new, colourful saris and kurtas, these young professionals enjoy the mela (fair) inside the Charukala premises, have lunch at the famous restaurant Nirob and sometimes even relax by the Dhanmondi Lake. “Baishakh is incomplete without a visit to Charukala,” says Nazneen. “What appeals to me most about this place is the preparations that the students have taken for days to make the whole area, including the streets outside, colourful.” Being amateur artists themselves, Nazneen spends a lot of time looking at the new artwork done by the Charukala students. “Every year, they make all these beautiful bird-like creatures for the rally,” she says. “We always make a point to make a note of them. I, especially, adore the little jewellery that Charukala sells on Baishakh and spend a lot of time selecting and buying them as well.”

Charukala is a frenzy of Baishakh activities even two days before the actual show-day. With music blaring from one corner and students of all ages working on their Baishakh projects, the Charukala Institute of Fine Arts of the Dhaka University becomes an apt place for youngsters to hang out and watch while creations take shape. The campus corridors are lined up with first year students working on Styrofoam, chart paper, paint and many other mediums. At one corner, the students' magnificent creations are left to dry- birds, butterflies, masks of all shapes and sizes, life-size flowers and even bats. While the first year students work, chat and sneak off from work at the same time, a senior student or two, playing the role of supervisors and advisors, prod the juniors to talk less and work faster. At one point, the small but stern senior female student is seen lecturing a group of first year boys who had sneaked out for a spree in one of the motor-bikes, instead of bringing back the supplies on time.

Outside by the sculptures and fountains, a massive dinosaur-like creature is slowly taking shape. With at least 8-10 students working on this single project, the creature has big wings which actually moves in the wind, is around 20 feet long and will definitely seem bigger by the time it is finished for Baishakh. “We are making this for the rally,” says Upol, a final year student, while taking a break. “We started working on this project 7-8 days ago.” Upol explains that the frame was built right in the beginning and to make it sturdier, loads of papers were being plastered onto the frame before finally giving it some colours. Upol further shows the bar-like framework on the inside of the body of the creature, explaining all the physics theories behind the floating wings. “By the time it is finished, it will look very different,” says Upol. “There is still a lot more work to be done here,” he says and goes back to work.

With the grand day closing in, the Charukala Institute was filled with both professional and amateur photographers. Everyone wanted to experience the 'behind the scenes' of the Baishakhi celebration. Plenty of television channels were also seen slogging away to capture the perfect image of the students and the crafts. At another corner of the Charukala grounds, a school building-like structure is being worked on by students. A part of the mela festivities, the school is built to attract children on Pahela Baishakh. The students draw figures of children and also chalk caricatures of animal characters on doors and windows - a fox with spectacles, a cat wearing clothes and walking by the river and so on.

Pahela Baishakh is not limited only to the Dhaka University campus area anymore. Just like any other festival in Bangladesh, plenty of preparations are taken to celebrate this day. Weeks before Baishak, the shopping spree begins all over the country and is believed to even beat the Eid and Puja enthusiasm. Red and white are not the only colours that define Baishakh anymore. Shoppers are seen with bags filled with combinations of white, red, black, olive green and even peach. Popular shopping areas in Dhaka city-Baily Road, Dhanmondi, Banani Road 11 - were teeming with both families and students trying to look for the best sari and kurta for the occasion. For those who opted to stay home from the crowds outside, grand recipes were being cooked for days ahead of the time.

We Bangladeshis have always been fond of celebrations and colours. Pahela Baishakh can be defined as a day when all Bangladeshis leave their differences at their doorsteps and come forward to celebrate in their very own ways. The day is proof enough to say that it is the spirit of being a Bangladeshi, within us, that truly defines our race and unites us.

The city is in a festive mood prior to the Baishakh festivals.

Charukala is a frenzy of Baishakh activities even two days before the actual show-day.

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