Categories
Editorial

New Beginnings

We wish all our readers and writers fabulous varieties of new year celebrations across Asia! We also complete one year and waft towards a new beginning. We have had some alterations as you know over the last few months — new faces on our board and writers in residence. Now, in addition to hosting writers from across all borders and ages, we have decided to also become an online forum for translated Tagore songs and writings. This will be launched on Tagore’s Birth Anniversary — 7th May. We hope that the transcreations in this section will take the treasures of the great writer and philosopher closer to the non-Bengali speaking populations from all over the world. We will try to retain the spirit of his poetry and attempt to recreate the impact of the Bengali verses for everyone who can read in English. We have already started with transcreations of about half-a-dozen of his songs. Do take a look and tell us what you think.

To celebrate our diverse new years, we have a musing by Sohana Manzoor. Did you know that Pohela Baishakh or the Bengali New Year is a national holiday in Bangladesh and is observed on the 14th of April each year?

A new year bodes a new beginning, a new sunrise and a new day — a new bunch of experiences. That is why our theme this time was new beginnings. What did we have in the beginning? Dylan Thomas tells us —

In the beginning was the word, the word 
That from the solid bases of the light 
Abstracted all the letters of the void; 
And from the cloudy bases of the breath 
The word flowed up, translating to the heart 
First characters of birth and death. 

On that theme of words, we have a fabulous poem by Balochi writer, Akbar Barakzai, who created a furore by turning down an award from the Pakistan Academy of Letters last year. His poem has been translated by Fazal Baloch. That is just one of the treasures. This time to celebrate this bouquet of new years across Asia, we have a bumper issue which includes, interviews with the 2020 Sahitya Akademi winner, Arundhathi Subramaniam, and academic-cum-writer Sumana Roy. Both poets have been kind enough to share a poem each with us. Arundhathi’s poem is inspiring and Sumana’s is a moving one about a tree, a tree that made history. We have powerful poetry from a number of other writers, Pushcart winner Jared Carter, Michael Burch, Sekhar Banerjee, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Ihlwa Choi and of course our inimitable Rhys Hughes. Rhys has also started a column for us in which he will talk of poets, poetry and whatever else he chooses (within the confines of our magazine’s needs, of course). Our focus this year will shift even more towards quality of content.

In translations, other than Tagore songs and Baloch’s translations, we have Aditya Shankar’s translation of Malayalam writer, Shylan. A short story by Tagore from his famous collection Golpo Guchcho has been translated by Nishat Atya. To celebrate Tagore’s anniversary, we have essays by Meenakshi Malhotra and Sohana Manzoor too. Interestingly Sohana Manzoor’s essay has Tagore’s vision of Buddha — and Sumana Roy gave us a poem on the Bodhi tree, a tree under which the Buddha meditated his way to salvation!  Looking at the sad situation in Myanmar, we definitely have a need for reviving Buddhism, a theme that has been touched on by well-known film critic, journalist and translator Ratnottama Sengupta, in her ponderings on the Silk Route. Branching off from the journey across Asia towards Europe and moving up north to Siberia is a narrative from our spunky back packing granny, Sybil Pretious. She writes of her travels all the way to Lake Baikal!

Devraj Singh Kalsi suffered personal loss and has given us a poignant in memoriam on his mother. Mike Smith takes us on a memorable nostalgic journey with postcards from the past with stories that want to make you weep. There is more on memorabilia with a photo-essay by Nishi Pulugurtha and a photo-poem by Penny Wilkes (have you ever adventured with one of these?). Sunil Sharma tried out a playlet! The other exciting and new thing is Bhaskar Parichha has started a witty column with us. We are calling it Bhaskar’s Corner! I won’t tell you what about but do take a peek!

Books reviewed are Paro Anand’s Nomad’s Land by Nivedita Sen — a book on migrants, a theme which is there in the piece on silk route too; Rudolf C Heredia’s Reconciling Difference by Bhaskar Parichha and Candice Louisa Daquin has reviewed a book on cancer, The First Cell by Azra Raza. Our book excerpt is from a book on parenting, Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World by Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia. An interesting read in a world of changing values. Our young person’s section run by Bookosmia owe a huge thanks to the untiring efforts of Nidhi Mishra and Archana Mohan. Thank you both. Thanks to the whole team for your immense support.

I have as usual not covered all the content in my note. I leave you to unfold the surprises! Much thanks to all our writers and readers for continuing to be with us!

Again, we wish you all a new beginning in our diverse new years!

Hope and happiness to you all!

Mitali Chakravarty

Categories
Slices from Life

Pohela Boishakh: A Cultural Fiesta

Sohana Manzoor shares the Bengali New Year celebrations in Bangladesh on April 14th, pausing on the commonality and differences with Poila Baisakh, the Indian version of Pohela Boishakh celebrated in the Eastern part of India

Happy & Prosperous New Year or ‘Shubho Nabobarsho’ in Bengali script

“Shubho Nabobarsho” (happy and prosperous new year) is the traditional greeting for the Bengali new year. The upcoming April 14 will herald the beginning of the Bengali year 1428 in Bangladesh, but in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Odisha and parts of Assam it will be the 15th of April. In Bangladesh, Pohela Boishakh is one of the biggest occasions of celebration, next to perhaps the two Eids.

Whereas the celebrations of Pohela Boishakh is now a regular thing, its history is somewhat unclear. According to most historians, the Bengali year or Bangabda was introduced by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. In those days, agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri Calendar. But then the Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar and naturally, it did not coincide with the agricultural year. The tax collecting time was not a time when the peasants and farmers could pay the taxes. It only added to the confusion of the people who tilled the land in various capacities. To streamline the tax collection, Akbar ordered a reformation of the calendar. As a result, in 1584 Bangabda was born. But the year started from 963, the Hijri year it was modeled on. According to some historians, however, it was adopted by another Muslim ruler called Hussain Shah of Bengal. There is yet another group that alludes to Shashanka, a seventh-century King of Bengal, for inventing Bangabda. It is quite possible that it existed before Akbar’s time and the Mughal Emperor reinvented it with the help of his royal astronomer and other pundits of his court.

An interesting aspect of Bangabda is that the names of the months were different in those times. The story of how the months of Farwardin, Urdibahish and Khordad became Baishakh, Jyoshthyha and Ashar is lost to us. But we do know that just as he had helped in modernizing the Bengali language, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah helped in modernizing the Bengali year. Partially accepting his reformative suggestions, the Bangla Academy saw that the first six months had thirty-one days each and the last six, thirty. Hence there is no further confusion about which day of the Gregorian calendar Pohela Boishakh coincides with. In Bangladesh, it is always 14 April. But in West Bengal and other parts of India, it can be either 14 or 15 of April.

When the Bengali new year was first introduced, the most important activities on the first day of the year involved halkhata, opening of a new book for zamindars who would treat their tenants with sweets. On the last day of the old year, there would be Chaitra Sankranti, a day celebrating the end of the year. Actually, in rural areas, this day was more colourful than Pohela Baishakh. Charak Puja, a Hindu festival honouring the god Shiva is central to this celebration. The actual puja used to take place on the midnight of Chaitra Sankranti, and it was a very special kind of ritual and not too many people even know about it anymore. The preparation would start a month ahead of the actual puja and a total of twelve devotees would take part in it. There would be different kinds of festivities through the day, and snacks like puffed rice, ground gram called chhatu,  dry sugary sweets like khoi, murki, batasha, kodma, and many varieties of leafy vegetables would be available. In today’s Bangladeshi scenario, Chaitra Sankranti has almost disappeared except in some distant villages. Only lately, some initiatives are being taken in Dhaka to reintroduce the fair, even though it looks like any other fair and very different from the original Chaitra Sankranti.

With urbanization, the more secular Pohela Boishakh became popular. However, some elements from Chaitra Sankranti have been integrated in Baishakhi celebration. For example, there are fairs that still showcase puffed rice, khoi, murki, batasha and kodma. There are products made by rural artisans. Performances on musical instruments like ektara, dotara and dhol by rural artists are show cased. Riding the nagardola (a mini and wooden version of the Ferris wheel, reminiscence of the charak) is a central attraction of the fair.

It is impossible to conceive of any Bengali festival without food. The first food item that comes to mind regarding Pohela Baishakh, is hilsa fish. Different preparations of mouth-watering taste are prepared with hilsa. Then there are panta bhat (fermented rice) with green chili, all kinds of bhartas (mashes) starting with potatoes to tomatoes, sweet pumpkins, lentils, beans, shrimps and different types of fish, chutneys, shutki (bitters), authentic Bengali sweets, savoury snacks like fuchka, chotpoti and even traditional ice-creams, kulfi. Bigger cities find fairs and programmes in almost every locality.

Chhayanaut, an institution devoted to the propagation of Bengali culture, started celebrating the Bengali Nababarsha under the Ramna Botomul (a historic banyan tree) in 1967. Since the Liberation War of 1971, Pohela Boishakh has grown into a national festival for all Bangladeshis irrespective of religions. In Dhaka, the Pohela Boishakh procession begins from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. The students start taking preparation for the procession from days ahead. They make masks and banners and wear elaborate costumes. This is known as the festive Mangal Shobhajatra, translated procession showcasing good fortune. In 2016, this festivity organized by the Faculty of Fine Arts was listed as UNESCO cultural heritage. Specific roads around Dhaka city are decorated with white and red alpanas, elaborate designs made with rice flour mixed with water.

At the break of dawn on Pohela Boishakh, people gather at the Ramna batamul festival ground. The day starts with singing the famous Tagore song, “Esho he Boishakh*” along with many others. The whole day is spent in celebration. Radios and TV channels air special programs on the day too. People dressed in white and red and other colourful attire flock around the city. It is also observed as a national holiday and a fun-day for everybody.

Sohana Manzoor is an Associate Professor of English at ULAB. She is also the Literary Editor of The Daily Star.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Greetings from Borderless Tagore Translations

Greetings on Multiple Asian New Years in April!

New Year arrives in some parts of Asia every April, around 13th to 15th. India celebrates new year under various names and with many different traditions –  such as Ugadi in Karnataka, Vishu in Kerala, Baisakhi in Punjab and many more. Nepal observes Nava Varsha. Thailand celebrates Songkran, which is a bit like Holi in India as it involves water play and a bit like the Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year. Sri Lanka calls their festival Avurudu, which seems to have customs close to the Tamilian new year Puthandu or that of Karnataka. Bangladesh livens up with a national festival, called Pohela Boisakh, which is a bit different from the Polia Baisakh celebrations in the Eastern parts of India.

Intrinsic to all these is the joie de vivre of the festivities whether with water play, food, Bhangra dancing or with Rabindra Sangeet. To get into the spirit of things, here is a translation of Tagore and a small video of  a dance performance to celebrate all these Asian new years.  This song by Tagore, Esho He Baishakh, is especially relevant at this juncture because it talks of the New Year clearing the world from all  diseases that weaken and kill humanity. May we all have a glorious entry into the New Year and may the world heal from this nagging pandemic.

Come O Baisakh!
(A translation of Tagore's Esho He Boisakh, Esho, Esho, 1927)

Hail O baisakh! Welcome. 

Blow away deadly diseases with your ascetic breath. 
May the debris from the old year disappear. 
Let go of old memories, let go of old melodies. 
May sorrows and tears evaporate. 
Wipe away slanders, wipe away infirmities. 
May the Earth be purified by fire. 
Wither obsessive unhealthy passions. 
Summon a storm with a conch call to
Transfigure the misty webs woven by Maya*.

*Maya is an illusory play of divine intervention.

Greetings again for all Asian New Years from Borderless Journal!

(Written and translated by Mitali Chakravarty on behalf of Borderless Journal)