Even though our lives are governed by the Gregorian calendar, Bengalis are often fixated to their own panjika to follow almost every auspicious date and this is one observation I’ve made since childhood. So when it comes to a special occasion like the Bengali New Year, it’s obvious for them to stick to their own calendar. Poila Baishakh or Naboborsho, as its popularly called, falls on the first day of Baishakh very much like the Tamil New Year ((Puthandu Vazthukal), Baisakhi in the Punjab, Vishu in Kerala, Rongali Bihu in Assam and Maha Vishuva Sankranti in Orissa, i.e, April 14 or 15 every year.
To my friends celebrating the joy of New Year in different parts of India, let me give you a sincere sketch of the Bengali New Year, and “how things have changed” (like most Bengalis repent) and yet it remains the most remarkable day for the people in Kolkata! (to everyone living in the vibrant city and not just the Bengalis )
Ask your grandparents about Poila Baishakh, and be prepared for the standard reply: “Poila Baishakh is no longer what it used to be even a decade or two ago.” Probe a little further and they’ll also tell you that Kolkata is gradually losing its old world charm, thanks to the winds of globalization. (At least we thank God for that)
This whole fuss about “losing the charm” may be true to an extent… because even a decade or two ago, this festival was about family members getting together. The elderly women of the house were busy preparing a traditional family lunch. Evenings were marked by a cultural programme at home. Some used to go to their local clubs for music and dance performance or headed to see a theatre or play (my dad still does by the way!).
You may ask now whether Poila Baishakh celebration is really dying a mournful death for the scions today? The answer is “Not really”. And this is not my thoughts alone. This is what I gathered from people of the city. The newer generation still loves to celebrate Poila Baishakh. In fact, they keep adding their unique ‘cool’ culture to the traditional festival making it quite ‘hip’ with the passage of time.
The new breed of Bengalis (and I don’t exclude myself from the sort) enjoy celebrating it just like any other special day such as Mothers Day, Friendship Day, Christmas Day, Valentines Day and of course the English New Year. For many in the city, the celebration is a combination of traditionalism with modernity.
Some prefer to dress up in a traditional sari or kurta-payjamas and believe that it’s time to go back to your roots. It actually feels good to spend time with friends and families on this special day and I agree to this. And most love to gorge on the sumptuous food fares at the city restaurants. Some others love the traditional Bengali platter like luchi and aloo dum for breakfast, and, polao, chanar dalna, bhetki paturi and kosha mangsho along with chutni and mishti doi for lunch.
If you ask me what I do in particular, well… nothing great, but it’s a feel good day. I do spend time with family and friends, meditate, cook and try to make it a bit different from the mundane in my own small way.
The retail outlets make the most out of this festival actually…. “Sale” Sale” everywhere and we all enjoy shopping for clothes, utensils, jewelry and home furnishing items. What needs to be mentioned is traders and shopkeepers still celebrate Poila Baishakh with so much of zest and this has not changed at all. They not only observe the halkhata ceremony, but also decorate their shops with flowers and garlands. May be the khatas have been replaced by computers for many. The trend of offering sweets to customers also continues.
I can see the Poila Baishakh mood prevailing everywhere in kolkata. May not be the same as what it used to be decades back, but we thrive on change, don’t we? And whether you call it ‘commercialism’ or “the winds of change’ or ‘getting back to your roots’, the day remains special to every Kolkatan and it will never completely fade away – much like the pink panjika that remains a part and parcel of every Bengali household.
With this I sign off… and wish you all A Very Happy & Prosperous New Year!