The Boishakhi Fever
By Zarif Masud and Ibrahim
Mixed emotions amidst a new beginning
Pohela Boishakh. You can just smell the festivities in the air. The Bangla New Year brings in a feeling of freshness, of vibrancy and excitement mixed intimately with our proud heritage. And it also brings food. Lots and lots of food.
Pohela Boishakh is one of the most celebrated days in the Bangla calendar, particularly in the cities. The actual tradition dates back to the feudal era, during the reign of Emperor Akbar. At the time, taxes were collected following the Arabic Calendar. Since the Hijri Calendar is lunar, it differed from the agricultural year. Thus farmers were forced to pay taxes out of season. Emperor Akbar introduced the Bangla Calendar which was a solar calendar and thus maintained conformity with the agricultural year.
It was customary to clear up all dues in the last day of Chaitra, the last month of the Bangla year. The next day, which is the first of Boishakh, the landlords would invite and entertain the tenants. There would be festivities and fairs on the day. In the course of time, the first of Boishakh attained its present shape and status.
We decided to go around asking the youth of today what they think of Pohela Boishakh. Some of them deigned to speak to us for a few minutes, despite their busy schedules of doing absolutely nothing other than sitting in class and sleeping with their eyes open.
"I really love this day," says Farhana, an English medium student. "I know that we don't really set much store by the Bangla calendar these days, but this is more of a symbolic beginning for me. A chance to celebrate my roots."
Sharmin, a university student is really happy that she doesn't have to go to class. "I love holidays, no matter what it is. Not going to classes is definitely something I look forward to. It's not a day where you sit at home. It's not like Eid where you mostly spend your time with family or Valentine's Day where you feel awkward dressing up a lot in front of your mom before leaving the house. It's a holiday where you spend the day with your friends outside. Ghura ghuri. Yay!"
Yay for Sharmin. Go have fun, you. Reshad on the other hand doesn't quite get the 'fad'. "Sleep," he answers when asked what he was planning on doing on Pohela Boishakh. "Dude, I have classes 5 days a week. With all those exams and stuff, I hardly get any extra sleep. Besides, it's HOT out there. Why anyone would want to go around in that heat is beyond me. And then there's the ridiculous crowd. Meh."
Shezad was outraged hearing Reshad's comments about Pohela Boishakh. "People like him are the reason our culture is degrading. He'd celebrate Friendship Day and Valentine's Day but not Pohela Boishakh. Pfft."
Speaking of which, we decided to find out exactly what people do out there, despite the heat and all that.
"Erm… we go out with friends. Hang out all day. We go eat at different places," says Sharmin. "This year, I might come to Dhaka University. I want to enjoy all the festivities."
"Food. That's what I'm looking forward to after I get up." So Reshad had planned on getting up at some point after all. He made a most disdainful face when asked what he thought of Panta bhaat. "But I like the other items that they have on the day. Especially the Ilish Kopta."
Hasan has his Pohela Boishakh plans all figured out. "First, I'm going to go meet up with my friends. Then we are going to hang around, wander about randomly, I guess. Then we might go to Dhanmondi and get something to eat. After that, we are going to go back to TSC to enjoy the concerts." There are also concerts at Rabindra-shorobor on Pohela Boishakh afternoons. In fact, there are concerts at every corner.
The 'stuff to do on Pohela Boishakh' list just doesn't end there. You are bound to come across lots of little melas in open fields around Dhaka and while these don't match up to the grandeur of the TSC carnival or the rally from Shahbag to Dhaka University, they come with their own impressive line-up of snake charmers and jatra's (traditional plays). So, wherever you go, entertainment is guaranteed.
So, apart from the weather, what makes people so cynical about this day? "It's probably, peer pressure," asserts Shezad with a knowing look. "The idea that you and your friends are too 'cool' to celebrate this day because it's not modern enough." When asked about this, Reshad seemed reluctant but agreed nonetheless that all his friends were planning on staying in for the day too. Then again, some people come out on Pohela Boishakh because of their friends. So it's a grey area there.
Does that make the heat merely an excuse? "Definitely," says Sharmin. "I mean, it's there everyday and that doesn't stop anybody. We just need to embrace it and carry on with the celebrations."
We've come a long way since the advent of the Bangla New Year and so far we've managed to keep the tradition alive and kicking. Let's hope we don't lose it anytime soon. As for us, we love everything about the day. The dressing up, the infectious enthusiasm, the pretty people, and - we can't emphasise this enough - food. Which, incidentally, you should stock up on, 'cause hungry friends and strangers (us) might turn up. Our advice on tackling the heat? Suck it up and brave it out.
Long story short, we hope to have fun this day and be sure to bring out the Bangali in us. However deep down it may be hiding.