Last year, before the Bangla New Year, my mentor in many aspects, Matiul Islam Nowshad, who’s the chief corporate and people’s officer in Robi Axiata Limited, had decided to replace sweets with books as gifts on the eve of Noboborsho.
So they presented Hajar Bochhorer Banglaee Shongskriti by Golam Murshid and Ekattorer Dinguli by Jahanara Imam to people.
The stake-holders who received their gifts were so happy that they responded in superlative terms. That was a huge success for my mentor, and his management has decided to stick to books when it comes to Bangla Noboborsho.
Having said that, kindly allow me to narrate our existing culinary practices a bit on the occasion of Pohela Boishakh. Come Noboborsho, we Bengalis, these days, get crazy about panta-ilish. I don’t understand why panta-ilish has become the symbol of Bangla Noboborsho.
How many people, who come to rejoice Noboborsho, have panta bhaat at their homes as meals? I don’t think many do.
I remember my mother used to put water in the surplus rice after dinner so that the rice wouldn’t get rotten. Most families didn’t have refrigerators at that time. Therefore, the only option was to put water in the surplus rice so that someone could have it the following morning.
Most of the time, the maids had panta in the morning as their breakfast.
Years before my mother was doing it, probably for hundreds of years before, it was a common practice across Bengal to preserve rice by adding water.
It was a sustainable way to not waste food and to reserve food in a food-scarce country.
The Bengalis didn’t celebrate Choitro Shongkranti or Pohela Boishakh with panta; rather, we celebrated these two occasions with our traditional sweets.
If you throw a keen glance around you, you’ll see an avalanche of sweets going around every nook and corner of the country. This is exactly where I would like to promote books
With panta, it was a common practice to preserve the food overnight and have it in the following morning. Simple!
To my mind, it’s quite funny that we have panta once a year and pretend that we’ve become great Bengalis. When it comes to hilsa fish, when did Bengalis celebrate the advent of Bangla Noboborsho with this particular fish?
Historically, there wasn’t any specific species of fish to celebrate Noboborsho. Apart from that fact, this is the time when one mustn’t catch ilish, because if you catch this fish now, the country will have a poor production during its season.
Our prime minister has also appealed to the countrymen not to consume this fish on the occasion of Noboborsho, as there’s absolutely no link between ilish and the New Year.
Talking about Noboborsho celebrations, this has almost attained the stature of Eid. These days, people come out of their homes and truly rejoice; as preparation for Pohela Boishakh, people buy all kinds of new clothes the same way they do during Eids; the shopping centres and markets thrive on the eve of New Year’s Day.
I’m absolutely delighted to see that we Bengalis now have another day that we can celebrate with all positivity and passion. I feel that our cultural sense has attained the status of our religious one.
People also exchange sweets among themselves. Over the last few years, the trend of distributing sweets has increased manifold. If you throw a keen glance around you, you’ll see an avalanche of sweets going around every nook and corner of the country.
This is exactly where I would like to promote books.
Imagine many of us presenting books to each other and everyone is reading those books.
We’d very soon have a knowledge-based society that would create an impact on our life.
Giving books on the occasion of Noboborsho could be one of the finest displays of our human qualities.
This would bring back our time-tested values surrounding books and libraries. I believe publishers would be able to play a great role in this regard.
We could start the run up to our Pohela Boishakh celebrations by organising book fairs in various districts or divisional cities. This would also augment the book business.
Our writers, on the other hand, wouldn’t have to wait till February to publish their work. The publishing business will also take a new turn if we can develop this practice.
I urge Bengalis from all walks of life to develop this habit during this time of the year, and attain greatness through books.
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.