A new year comes with a peculiar entourage. The English New Year is just round the corner of the week celebrating Christmas. So it is like a practice match, celebrating celebrations! With the Bengali New Year, there’s nothing dramatic as that. Occasionally though, the “kalbaisakhi” (the storm, peculiar to the Bengali month of Baisakh) used to act as an announcer of sorts.
The kalbaisakhi, which was more frequent when we were kids, used to be a typical blinding storm of dust, which would leave people on the streets in tears, literally. I remember another aspect of the kalbaisakhi too. The first rains of the season would mean the smell of the parched earth drinking water like the thirsty car in Rwitwik Ghatak’s film, “Ajantrik”. The smell of the wet earth is a dreamy nausea of sorts. Imagine yourself to be terribly thirsty under the scorching tropical sun. Imagine yourself drinking after that dryness. The sounds that you would hear - the sound of the gulping down of water - is what the director used in a scene, in the movie “Ajantrik”, where water is being poured down the ‘throat’ of the car by the driver. I always visualise the same sound coming from the dry earth, greedily drinking the rain water in huge gulps. I love the way it sounds in the smell it emanates.
Another aspect of the Bengali New Year is similar to any new year – the ritual of sharing greetings. It would almost be a competition of sorts to be able to call and greet first. Those were kiddo days but they were good nonetheless! The greeting ritual would typically begin in an interesting fashion in my home. No matter how late we slept the night before, we (i.e. my sis n me) would wake up early on the first day of the Bong New Year. Sleepy, as we would obviously be, we would dress up in a new saree (that great Indian drape!), and, accompany my mom n my aunt to the nearby temple. I have always lacked consistency in matters of faith. Some years, I would be devoutly greeting the deity and, in others, the ritual of the new year greeting with God would be more of a fun-filled outing in the morning (the reasons varied from me believing that I was a believer or an atheist; to the more humdrum reality of me being in a soup or not). Either way, the Bong New Year was eventually a day when we would end up buying the absolutely yummy packets of Uncle Chips and if good luck prevailed, then hot kachori and potato curry from a shop which believed that cleanliness is conflicting to the perfect taste of the crispy kachoris and the spicy aloo curry. It surely was a pleasantly auspicious day!
The element of the auspiciousness of this particular day, the first of the first month of the year (poila baisakh) was, however, more seriously taken by some. These are people who have businesses. On this particular morning, the temple would be thronged by several businessmen and they would, usually, wear the white kurta-pajama duo. I couldn’t help but notice their eagerness to have their business registers (haal-khata) marked by the holy sign of good luck (the swastika; well it existed even before the Nazis you see) by people, who I presumed were yet to be initiated in the duties of the priest. So, it could be that a novice priest was drawing the swastika in unsteady hands as a devout businessman was thanking the Almighty for assuring security and steadiness! The most interesting people in the crowd were however the most busy ones. They were the little ladies and gentlemen who imitated their parents in everything. If the mom was seen covering her head with the saree as she bowed to god, the little lady would wrap the “dupatta” over her head and attempt to bow with a greater arch of the body. The little ladies and gentlemen would also be seen climbing on to their parents’ lap to reach the temple bell and played it till the guardians forcefully put them down.
The fun and frolic of the day would pass and the eventual outcome of the grand Bengali New Year would however be the gruelling truth of the scorching sun the day after, and a fatigued and perspiring self only 24 hours from the grand opening of another lunar Bengali year! For all that and more ... let the Bengalis keep celebrating the Bengali New Year forever!