We observe the advent of the Bangla New Year today in difficult, troubled circumstances. A malady, an affliction that has achieved notoriety as coronavirus, runs riot across the globe. Here at home, we stay confined behind securely fastened doors, praying that this darkness will pass, that humankind will emerge into the sunlight once again.
Pahela Baishakh today rises as a prayer from deep within our souls, a prayer for the world to retrieve the beauty and the melody and the laughter over which an invisible enemy has loomed for weeks and could yet overwhelm us with its ferocity for weeks and months more. And yet, in all this gloom, Baishakh cannot but remind us once again of the cultural affluence that we in our part of the world have for ages been heir to. In more ways than one, it is once more a time for us to reassert our faith in the heritage we have, layer upon layer, fashioned for ourselves – through songs and poetry and celebrations of nature and a comprehension of the profundity upon which the universe is based, in order for us to remain rooted to ourselves, indeed to deepen the roots that bind us to the land we call home.
We welcome once again that time of year when the Bangali celebrates his heritage and, through that celebration, assesses his place in the universal scheme of things. For the Bangali, like millions of others across the globe, has a claim on history based on the cultural tradition his ancestors shaped for him, one that he renews annually through Baishakh. There are the currents and cross-currents of history which have given Baishakh roundness of a throbbing sort. It is these underpinnings of the season, indeed the beginning of a new year, that the Bangali remembers in Baishakh. There is, of course, the essential point of reference that was Akbar in terms of a celebration of the season. The haal khata, the closing off of a year just ended and the commencement of a new one, a taking stock of crops, indeed of productivity, are the underpinnings we speak of.
There is, then, about Baishakh something of the pastoral. In that larger sense of the meaning – and quite removed from the formalities attendant on its advent in these largely urban times – it is the village, that timelessness of agrarian life, that Baishakh recalls every year. There is a plenitude of colour, an abundance of music redolent of Baishakh. Add to that colour and to that melody the power of nature to remind the world of what it does or can do to make its presence felt yet once again. In the lowing clouds hanging over the rustic fields, in the winds which sweep across the earth before flashes of lightning and the ferocity of thunderclaps precede the fall of rain across the land comes that reminder of Baishakh being a particularly local affair for the people of this land as it is of the half of it that is today part of another land. Baishakh goes beyond the frontiers that demarcate the political realities which today define life in what once was one whole, unified Bengal.
And yet Baishakh brings all Bangalis – here and over there and all across the Bangali diaspora – together in a spontaneous offering of homage to the land and to the natural elements that have kept it going for thousands of years. Baishakh is all that and much more. It is a symbolism of all the good the Bangali can claim for himself through the poetry flowing from the souls of its greatest men. Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Dwijendra Lal Roy, Atulprasad and so many others have sung paeans to Bengal through the media of song and dance. Through the mysticism which defines faith, through the devotional songs of Lalon and Hason Raja, Baishakh rediscovers the aesthetics of life in these parts.
Yes, Baishakh is truly a celebration of the past we lose ourselves in. Baishakh is all about losing oneself in order to reinvent oneself. The Bangali spirit that has all so often been a hallmark of the nation's politics and its poetry once more goes back to the magic inherent in its heritage in order to expand the cultural parameters of the future.
In Baishakh, there are all the intimations of rain about to descend to earth, of storms ready to blow, of the rainbow taking hold of the imagination. In the waterfall laughter of women is a lilt touching the soul, ever so softly. In the conversations of men are heard the stirrings of the flute which long ago coursed through the hamlets of this land and will be heard once again in all their rising splendour.
On Pahela Baishakh, we will celebrate ourselves. We will celebrate all that is of us, that has been our ancestors' and that will be our children's.