Friday, April 20, 2018

Ode to Baishakh

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My sojourn began at Ramna Park, where along with the sea of faces and to the tune of esho he baishakh esho esho / Taposh o nishasho baye, I welcomed Pahela Baishakh. The tapestry of colorful crowd mesmerized me. It seemed the gaiety could not cohere without the assorted raiment of red, white, green, and russet-hena colors, bangles and teep, emblems of season painted on young faces and arms, the warm smiles, and encounters of that gentle touch of love! The celebrations symbolized a new beginning that reverberate the renewal of life.

On this befitting day, there is something about looking ahead to hope. It is a secular festival that connects those who share the common heritage. As a beginning of the year it is a reminder that the first day is indicative of newly approaching days. And thus the callings for fine attires, to greet, to visit, to love, to share treats, to enjoy, make new resolutions, embrace customs - fulfillments that is comfort giving, artisan of pride, and the hope of new possibilities.

That was then. Today, sitting on the porch of my home in a faraway land, memories take me back and forth through the history of myself as I recall the collage of reasons for revering Baishakh.  It takes me on a journey to antiquity, allows me to celebrate my heritage-Pahela Baishakh, Boishakhi Purnima, Buddha Joyanti, Robindro Joyanti and many more, reminds me to pay homage to those who sacrificed their lives to give us a free nation, and meditate with writers of the land.

I venerate the season as it is the start of a New Year. The legacy of Bengali calendar is rooted in history millions of moons ago. During the reign of Akbar the Great, the modus operandi of collecting taxes did not coalesce with harvest timings, which was initially based on lunar calendar. Tarikh-e-Elahi, the new calendar system, was introduced to facilitate this transaction.

Fasli San, the agricultural timetable, which registered the chronology of seasons throughout the year, was instituted in 1584. With it came the tradition of celebrating Nawroze, new day of the year. Businessmen and landlords opened new halkhata; while the peasants looked ahead for that harvest of next good crop; both closing chapters on the old. Continuing on the trail of thoughts I recall the unrelenting work of rural peasants whose livelihoods were, and still are in many instances, dependent on the whims of nature. Baishakh, the season of occasional rain and kaalbaishakhi is the life-line of a good produce. During this season, 'praying to the clouds for water' becomes the dictum of farmers' lives.

Another remnant that bridge yesterdays to the todays is the food of our peasant ancestors. The panta bhat, green chilies, and onion that is embedded in the culture of Baishakh festival, in reality reflects the peasant's austere living of past and present. Now, of course, the varieties of bhorta, ilish mach bhaja, and many kinds of pitha are considered ambrosia of the festival, without the taste of which experience of the celebrations remain incomplete. It is that bind I proclaim of the season. 

And yes, who can forget Kaalbaishakhi, the free spirit of the season! To experience this tempest is soul caressing. As its disorder pushes through, it too creates an order. The rain cools scorching weather; it loosens the earth and refreshes produce of the land; replenishes the thirsting ponds, fills the drinking wells, lifts the seas, turns the russet colored leaves into verdant green. Korobi, gondhoraj, bali, kathal chapa, krishnochura, radhachura, shirish, jarul, all find their vibrant colors.

In rural haors and beels, even the water hyacinths happily multiply. Baishaikh is the apocalyptic declaration and wonderment of Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and many Bengali writers. To them the sensation of season's rain is music of the romantic heart, the lyrics of poems, haven for lovers. It revitalizes the writer's pen and our collective spirit as well. That is what I rejoice.

I celebrate the quiet thrill in anticipation of sultry wet days. Even now, I hear the even tempered rhythm of raindrops on tin-shed roofs. I imagine walking barefoot in rain, attentive to the fragrance of good earth, becoming one with nature. During Baishakh I visualize the splendor of universe and I sing along with the alluring orchestra of wind "akash bhora surja tara bishsho bhora pran / tahari majhkhane ami peyechi mor esthan / bishshoye taii jage amar gaan." The sentiments gracefully hold the verve of relishing the season.

And finally, in rain I long to see the crimson lotuses tremble on a restless pond, imagery typical of Bengali landscape. I cherish Baishakh as it reminds me of our heritage, lest we forget; makes me hope for a balance of old and new cultural traditions and just national principles. It brings out the believer in me of all that is good in new. I hum along with Baishakh lovers, "tora shob joyodhoni kor / oee notuner keton ore kaal boishakhir jhor."

The writer writes from the USA

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