By Shuprova Tasneem
POHELA Baishakh is without a doubt the most celebrated festival in Bangladesh. It is the only day of the year when the roads get so jam-packed that getting from Bailey Road to TSC can become a matter of hours due to the flood of festive masses. Almost everyone enjoys going out and doing something on this occasion, although I have heard quite a few cynical youngsters, the type who are bound to roll their eyes and pretend to find everything boring, whine about Pohela Baishakh and the reason for making it such a 'big deal', saying that it is 'lame' to celebrate being a Bengali on just one day and do the same things every year. I suppose staying at home and turning up your nose at the biggest cultural festival of the country is very patriotic, and it is absolutely outrageous to want to have fun on a holiday if you don't write 'proud to be a Bengali' in bold letters on your forehead to prove that you are, in fact, patriotic. But it does bring to mind the question, what makes Pohela Baishakh such an auspicious occasion and attracts hundreds of people into the streets to celebrate this big day?
Celebrating Our Culture
Pohela Baishakh is the largest event in our holiday calendar that is based solely on celebrating our traditions and heritage. Other occasions have little to do with our culture, such as Eid day, where we spend most of our time praying, overeating and trying to extort salami from elders, as most forms of cultural entertainment are frowned upon on a holy day. Baishakh is a whole other experience, where thousands of people flock to Ramna, and many other places, to listen to the deep melodies of Robindroshongit and other Bangla songs, experience the fiery recitations of Bangla poetry and watch entertaining jatras organized by theatrical students. And it is not just that, the streets become transformed with beautiful artwork under the skillful hands of the art college students, and come alive from the pulsating beats of dhaks and dhols and the jangling of dugdugis. The loud and jovial processions, filled with bright, creative masks and cheerful crowds, add more colour to the scene. It is the only day where you can dance like crazy in the middle of the streets without being dragged to Pabna, and even those who have never voluntarily read a word in Bangla end up learning something about Bengali culture!
Long Live Colourful Traditions
There are some things that are unalterably connected to Pohela Baishakh, such as wearing red and white saris, going to a mela, having panta bhaat, etc. These are age-old traditions, things that grandparents still reminisce about doing in the 'old days'. From wooden toys and clay jewellery found at the numerous fairs to painting your faces with bright colours, these things are originally Bengali and create a link between ourselves and our heritage. On my part, I think my mother never looks lovelier than when she wears her colourful sari, her red bindi and puts flowers in her hair to greet the New Year, and if our traditions ever get swallowed up by the 'Yo generation' (the horror!), at least there will be this one day to remind us about the customs of our ancestors.
A Reason To Be Merry
No matter how many changes have occurred, it is common knowledge that life in Bangladesh is not easy, and what with the rising prices and all, people need a reason to celebrate. Dressing up and going to the mela, especially for the working class who cannot afford expensive stuff, and buying glass bangles, riding on nagordolas and sharing some joy with their families might be the only form of much needed entertainment; after all, it's not like they have a lot to be happy about. Besides, surely no youngster will disagree that the potkas, tarabatis and other fireworks that once lit up and shook the entire city during Pohela Baishakh were incredible! Too bad they are banned now thanks to JMB, but at least we still get to have those super fun colour fights! And lastly, I know of a lot of guys who have the time of their life 'people (read girl) watching' on Pohela Baishakh, so why wouldn't anyone want to celebrate?
What makes Pohela Baishakh so special is that it is for everybody to celebrate, irrespective of class and religion. It is a festival that brings people together on a common platform of cultural identity, and ignoring it is not going to make you unique and differ from the masses; it will just prove your insolence and dullness. No matter how much you scoff, the traditional ways and Pohela Baishakh are innately integrated into the Bengali lifestyle; thank heavens for that!
PHOTO: ZAKIR HOSSAIN