Dubai: It feels quite nothing like the ‘Poila Boisakh’ or the Bengali New Year this time around. And there are no prizes for guessing why.
Scrolling through the WhatsApp late on Monday evening, a few messages from the odd relative and friend suddenly reminded me that the ‘other’ New Year - the more cherishable one for us ‘Bongs’ is barely few hours away. The significance of April 14 (it serves as the New Year for a number of states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerela in different avatars) was almost getting lost on me - with the mind more clogged with the anticipation of what is in store in the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on Tuesday morning.
A Bengali New Year in the times of a nationwide lockdown - an idea which seemed beyond imagination in our journey of life so far. Having lived outside the country on work for nearly two decades now, me and my family had to let go the chance of savouring it back home - alongwith the carnival atmposhere of Durga Puja in autumn every year. However, as my wife tried to ably compensate it with some add-ons to the menu here every year (read: a few selection of fishes from Burdubai or the sweets from Karama), we all along knew what we were missing.
How is it to be in Kolkata on a Poila Boisakh? If you know our tribe well, you are familiar with our obsession with food. The ‘Poila Boisakh’ being a holiday in the state government’s calendar - it always arrived with the spirit of a public holiday. The market places, neighbourhood sweet shops would be full and the stocks would soon run out as the menue had be something ‘special’ for both lunch and dinner. The price tags of a few fishes like hilsa and chingri (lobsters) would skyrocket on this day, but the Bengalis would not mind loosening their purse strings for a day - for the family, friends or the son-in-law who would visit for lunch.
It’s not about only eating though as the day signifies opening up new books of accounts for the local businessmen, traders and even smalltime kirana shops - who would entertain their regular customers with customary boxes of sweets and warm greetings - with a silent prayer that the business should be good throughout the year.
Another interesting haunt on the day is the College Street in North Kolkata - a famous neighbourhood where the city’s elite colleges and Calcutta University coincide with the famous book hub. The day is meant to be a sort of ‘judgement day’ for publishers of Bengali fiction and poetry as new publications roll hot off the press that day - with authors turning up to adorn their spartan offices.
Nothing will, of course, be the same this year. The markets and sweetshops looked to have brisk business within the stipulated hours as people turned to e-greetings - something which had, of course, replaced the personal warmth in the age of social media for years now. Each happy new year wish carried overriding messages of ‘Stay at home, stay safe etc’ - and the joie de vivre was clearly missing in the air.
‘‘This too shall pass’’ - was the overriding hope as we wished each other. I hope it soon does!