Pahela Baishakh is a dawning


by Syed Badrul Ahsan


There is that quality which comes to life with remembering a culture, upholding it as it were. Which is why we hold fast to Pahela Baishakh, indeed all aspects of Bengali culture, so well. On Bengali New Year’s Day, something of the traditional about ourselves, about how we have over the centuries shaped ourselves into a cultural mass of people, comes back to remind us of what we yet need to do about our destiny. No, destiny is not always about things political, although politics happens to be part of life, of societal existence. But in Baishakh we travel back to the aesthetic, to that old concept of values we have all our lives lived with and are now busy trying to pass on to the young, those who will come after them. Baishakh, like every noble note of culture, is always a generational thing. But, of course, culture is forever about linking generations. Where that link goes missing, something snaps. And a nation, a society, loses sight of the glow of the sun behind the mountains.

You could argue that the manner in which we go about displaying our devotion to culture is in a way a sign of nationalism over-reaching itself. You would be wrong to think that way, for what has been happening to us as a society over the decades is the simple, terrible truth that all too often we have seen our culture come under assault. From divergent forces. In the late 1940s, in the tumult of India’s partition, it was Bengali culture which was left sundered through the depredations of parochial men, if we may use that term, through a splitting of Bengal along religious lines. That was an outrage, and what we in this part of the world were left with was the clear, painful feeling that we were being left at the mercy of people who quite did not share our aspirations with us. And that precisely was what happened, after the troubling events of August 1947. That part of our tortuous history is known; and known too is the way in which Ekushey went into the job of reclaiming our threatened cultural values. And then there was the determined observance of Rabindranath Tagore’s centennial celebrations in 1961. That was an obvious display of our intentions, and those were to inform the state we were part of that, for all our participation in its affairs, or the lack of it, we kept remembering our Bengali ethos. For all the right reasons in the world.

That was years ago. And in the years in which we have been operating as a free state, we have tried to keep that old flame in us alive. Somehow the lateral entry of communalism into our politics has reinforced in us that old resolve to hold on to our heritage. No, we do not mean to live in isolation. There is, in our celebrations of Pahela Baishakh, nothing of the chauvinistic. But it is everything about our songs, our concepts of beauty, our approach to matters intellectual. Watch a Bengali woman. There is always the demure about her; and that well-known grace which defines womanhood in our part of the world has largely come to be associated with the Bengali woman. The modern and the traditional are what define our women today. The woman in Bangladesh, in the Bengal of history, has been a mother, a wife, a lover. In the overall sense of the meaning, she has been a symbol of poetry, an inspiration for all manner of creativity. On the first day of Baishakh, it is this emblem of Bengali culture which comes alive once more. It is not a symbol that is intangible. There is much of reality which comes with it. For it is this composite woman, one caring for our homes and also taking interest in the world around her, who teaches us anew our own culture.

In the month of Baishakh, there is a lot more that happens in our lives than a ritual, near-snobbish partaking of pantha bhat and ilish machh at Ramna batamul. The problem with that part of the festivities in Ramna is that many of those who relish the idea of re-linking themselves in such manner with their traditions are in reality quite divorced from their roots. Which is why, at Ramna, we enjoy—in that layman’s way of speaking—the breeze which brings along with it the old music, indeed the time-honoured passions of Bengali life as manifested in songs. Chhayanaut, in that sense, is much more than a body of cultured men and women. It is our mirror on ourselves, on what we have been through the ages and would like to be in the years to come. For us, Pahela Baishakh is never a hint that God’s in His heaven and all’s well with the world. All has never been well with our world. In Baishakh, the acute sense of poverty in our villages remains potent. The images of millions of men and women toiling from dawn to sundown for bare sustenance of body and soul keep coming back to us. On Pahela Baishakh, a few more wrinkles will have found their way to the dry foreheads of our poor; a few hundred more, perhaps many more, will have died of poverty. That remains our fate. Man’s fate? Perhaps. And man has historically been in a depressed state in this country.

Even so, Pahela Baishakh is our sheet anchor on heritage. The image of our peasants harnessing paddy in the noonday sun, the sight of little boys splashing about in the village pond, the truth of pastoral songs enveloping our countryside in their ancient charm is the dawning of Pahela Baishakh for us. Indeed, it is a dawning which comes to us, in our joys and our sorrows, in our rain and in our storms.

Source: The Independent, Dhaka, April 14, 2002

Home Page



[Micro Credit] [Science & Technology] [Development Strategy] 
[Globalization] [Ecology] [Migrant Worker's Issues]
[Democracy] [Health Issues ]  [Culture & Heritage] 
[Human Rights & Law]  [Women's Rights and Issues]  [Education]
[Poverty]  [Land Management] [Water Management] 
[Economy]  [Personalities]  [Environment]   
[Civil Society]  [Minorities & Ethnicity] [Diplomacy]