As per cyclic rotation of six seasons Pahela Baishakh comes every year with usual rituals and traditional pomp and grandeur. New Year is celebrated all over the world in various characteristic ways.
But culturally vibrant Bangladesh celebrates it with adequate cultural content like Mangal Shobhajatra, functional gathering at Ramna Batamul and other Barshabaran celebrations. Amid these enormous external celebrations within socio-ethical gloom we tend to question the sustainable impact of these in our individual and social life beyond temporary appreciation and enjoyment. The crying need for the hour is to adopt unanimous resolution for upholding ethics and values in personal and social life, rejuvenating our life with higher human aspirations, and developing an art of living on aesthetic lines. To what extent we can adhere to the said agenda in and through the occasion remains a challenging assignment for us.
However, Ms Sanjida khatun has given a clarion call to the cultural community, “Now is the time to use culture as a weapon and fight against extremism and bigotry.” Let us remember that the traditional celebration of Bengali New Year’s Day got different dimension in 1967 when Chhayanaut contemplated to use the occasion for expression of cultural rebellion against tyrannical suppression of Bengali culture and its embodiment Rabindranath Tagore by Pakistan. The Ramna Batamul celebration under the banyan tree was a grand idea for integration of the race beyond class, creed or religion on exclusively secular cultural lines and the spirit was always aflame during long liberation war of nine months. The history of Ramna Batamul celebration repeats every year since then with contemporary themes to remind us of our single cultural identity. This year the theme is to kindle the spirit of Bengali identity and commitment to uphold our cultural values and heritage as driving force to do away with negativities. Darkness is not the last word, as it is followed by sunrise, and slumber is temporary, as it is followed by fresh awakening. Hence eternal hope is the dominant refrain of Pahela Baishakh.
Almost invariably the celebration starts with Tagore's wonderful invocation, "Eso he Baishakh." We are usually carried away by its cadence and melody without probing deep down the words or taking them seriously. Baishakh or summer is not a pleasant season in tropical countries. But the poet welcomes it to drive everything moribund away by the force of its ascetic breath and blow away the garbage bin of bygone days along with steamy tears. He has prayed for whisking away all tiredness and infirmity and above all purification by fire. The poet has metaphorically wished for destruction of the weakness or infirmity to awaken in a new state of being. Fresh life is possible only after deliberate annihilation of the moribund old, worn out, stagnant, dreary desert of deadly thoughts and actions. The spirit of the song calls for specific agenda and appropriate New Year resolution, more so, when the contemporary world scenario badly demands the same. The song is not to be taken just like any other ritual like panta elish or so when inner and outer cleansing is needed.
Tagore has composed enough on New Year resolution and pledges. But these are shelved and least remembered as we are more concerned with entertaining aspects of cultural interventions than its constructive and cathartic storehouse.
While reading newspapers or tuning to TV news we invariably lament our abysmal loss of reason and beastly behaviour. Society is under utter crisis amid frequent rapes, gruesome murders, rampant corruption, subhuman behaviour and innumerable foul-plays. We need to use such occasions for cultural regeneration beyond frivolous festivities. But charity begins at home and regeneration starts at individual level before spreading to the community.
We are all perturbed by Rohinga issues and increasing evil-doing in society due to erosion of ethics and values, and seek suitable solution for the same. It is easier to fix socio-economic agenda for infrastructural growth or sustainable development. But our real resolution must relate to ourselves, our own internal progress on which our reaction to external happenings are subservient, but about which we are rather negligent.
The greatest discovery of human beings during the last century concerns our understanding that by changing our internal well-being we can change our own life as well as that of others. So our Pahela Baishakh resolution must relate to our own intense personal development and should be specific to our self-development. Most of us think that we are the embodiment of development and we have nothing to develop for us and development is needed only in external affairs. We are not cautious about our own strength, weakness, opportunities and threat perceptions. Some of us are keen to be carried away by the stream of life or driven like a dead leaf by the wind. Such mindset may be relevant for inanimate objects, whereas a living organism must have a specific agenda for growth.
Time and again we hear that cultural interventions can save the situation and drive darkness away. But lamentably we confine ourselves to the bare external entertainments without going little beyond. As if thinking is prohibited and any damn cultural programme can commit miracle. Even impact of wonderful presentations are spoilt without adequate exposition and explanation. For example, recently in a show of Tagore's Taser Desh it was explained in the beginning that the dance drama was written against the then British misrule. Most of the audience will take it that way and will not think more due to inadequate exposition. While the play humorously presents our blind victimhood of meaningless customs and rituals and ultimate emancipation of lively free thinking with youthful life-force and aesthetics. There is a need to focus more on the objective and selecting suitable cultural content to execute the same.
Our poet Rabindranath Tagore said that in everyday life we feel ourselves small, weak and alone. During such festivities we feel enhanced, stronger and united in unison with others in community. Festival changes our outlook towards life and makes us broadminded, well mannered and well wishers for all If we are really serious and sincere about Pahela Baishakh we must make requisite value addition to it by making it simultaneously an inner celebration. Rituals are useful only when they transcend us from repetitive customary following to thinking and assimilating.
Ethics and value system are the foundation stones of life. Life becomes meaningful not with power and possessions but with higher human aspirations and endeavours. Life becomes more human with cultivation of aesthetic sense. But all these call for adequate knowledge and initiation. Such occasions can be used to arouse the same. We must not keep the celebration of Pahela Baishakh confined within good dress, good food, good decoration and some cultural function to spend some time together without much exploration and assimilation within. It is the responsibility of everyone, but we must do our own little part in the best possible manner for individual and thereby collective transformation to awaken in a new earth.
The writer is a columnist.