Pantha-Ilish: Anti-culture of Pahela Baishakh
Farid Hossain
13 Apr,2016

With the economy growing at more than 7 per cent, the per capita income increasing to US$1,466 and a 20 per cent first-time Baishakhi festival bonus the nation is excitingly poised to celebrate the Pahela Boishakh, the first day of the Bengali New Year. Bangladesh follows the Gregorian calendar (English) for its official work but the Bengali calendar, especially the Pahela Boishakh is where its heart lies. True, the introduction of the current Bengali New Year’s Day dates back to the days of Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar who revised the day to make the tax collection easy mainly from the farmers after the new harvest. Over the years since then Pahela Baishakh celebrations have quintessentially a festival of Bengali culture and tradition transcending the boundaries of religions, caste and creed. It remains the only festival that touches everyone in Bangladesh. No one, rich or poor, is left out.

This year’s mood in Bangladesh is more festive.

Festivals across the cultures have deep links with the economic condition of the communities. One needs money to buy new clothes to wear and additional ingredients to prepare special dishes. Toys the children would like to have also need money. The better the economy the greater is the scope and joy of a festival. Bangladesh’s economy has never been better than what it is today. Even the average people of Bangladesh today have money to save and spend for a festival like, Pahela Baishakh. The financial ease is reflected in the happy public mood. The recent years have seen gloom in the global economy. There have been ups and downs in the global economy. The gloom, however, has spared Bangladesh, where the public, led by thoughtful dynamic prime minister in Sheikh Hasina, have demonstrated strong determination and resilience to march ahead overcoming odds and obstacles. A cheerful economy means a happy nation. That Bangladesh is happy with whatever it has achieved under the leadership of Hasina is evident everywhere — ranging from kitchen markets to the social clubs. Dhaka streets get jammed with new cars almost every day in a sign of a growing and financially strong middle class, one of the driving forces of the economy. Farmers who form an important part of the population in Bangladesh’s still agriculture-dominated economy have several reasons to enjoy this year’s Pahela Baishakh festival more than in the past. Good harvest, better prices for the commodities society, easy and relaxing. Worries about livelihood and schooling of children are not as intense as it was before. Traders and businessmen feel better about their life as they open Hal Khata or new book of accounts on Pahela Baishakh distributing traditional sweetmeats among the clients.

Political peace that has been a welcome feature of the society since the failed destructive campaign of BNP-Jamaat last year adds to the merriment of this year’s Pahela Baishakh. Neither a hartal nor a roadblock is going to disrupt the public mood of festival. Last year’s festival was celebrated under the shadow of BNP-Jamaat campaign to oust Hasina’s government in which the alliance activists resorted to hide-and-seek tactics throwing petrol bombs on packed passenger buses or even private cars, leaving more than 150 people killed and thousands injured in just three months. The campaign miserably failed but not before the loss of innocent lives and huge public property. That demon has been in check as the Bangalees prepare to pour onto the streets for this year’s festival.

In the past the Pahela Baishakh celebrations had primarily been a rural affair. With the advancement of the economy and corporate culture the festival has virtually been hijacked by the multi-national companies from the grassroots. Today, the multinationals, hailed by urban elite, have started dominating the many features of the festival overshadowing the true nature of our close-to-earth of the festival. As a result farmers, small traders and folk artists and their traditional practices are being overlooked and ignored. New practices, alien to the rural Bangladesh, are being imposed. For example, Pantha Ilish or Ilish Pantha has never been a Noboborsha dish in Bangladesh. Pahela Baishakh is not the part of the season when Ilish or Hilsa fish grows big enough for eating. This is still the time for Jatka or the Hilsa fry. Ignorant urbanites spend a handsome amount of money (up to Tk. 7,000 for a kilo of hilsa) to buy the fish, the Bengali delicacy, which had been kept in cold storage the year before. Getting an eatable fresh-from-the-river hilsa ahead of Pahela Baishakh is a rarity though. In spite of these facts corporation culture will keep on pushing up practice, even though it’s harmful to the growth of hilsa population.

In the name of Bangalee culture, an anti-culture goes on thanks to the corporate aggression.