With the vaccines rolled out, Noboborsho 2021 was meant to be a revival of familiar new year rituals or at least one hoped so
Noboborsho mornings are particularly etched in my memory. For one day at least, Ma would not have had to con me into waking up early by screaming it was past morning hours or turn off the fan to pull me out of sleep. I would almost leap out of bed and get ready to accompany her to the morning procession or ‘Prabhat feri’, with other enthusiasts from the neighbourhood.
We would all gather at a pre-decided location at 6-6.30 am, and walk through the nearby lanes, singing Esho Hey Baisakh or Hey Nutan, blaring through megaphones, our hearts brimming with pride of being a Bengali. The procession would end with a short programme where kids, women decked up in cotton sarees and gajra, and men in kurta-pyjama, would recite poems, sing and dance, after having rehearsed for at least a week.
This year, there have been no para (neighbourhood) meetings nor dance or music rehearsals for our much-awaited Prabhat feri. After spending 2020 Noboborsho under lockdown in another city, the chance to be able to celebrate the new year at home this time was quite a relief. Having lived away from home for a long time now, such instances of seasonal homecoming are perhaps what makes you feel connected to your roots — reliving your childhood rituals are perhaps what gives you a sense of familiarity and warmth, something you crave and want to return to each time.
With the vaccines rolled out, Noboborsho 2021 was meant to be a revival of those familiar new year rituals, or at least one hoped so. But as our family, friends and relatives eagerly waited for Poila Baisakh even amid the election frenzy — some awaiting their son or daughter’s return from another state, some planning to finally make that visit to a relative that they have been deferring since last year — coronavirus cases surged in the country, this time with new variants and new challenges, leaving us with a feeling of deja vu, albeit not a pleasant one.
And for people like myself, who look forward to fueling their ‘Bangaliana’ on these special occasions, the COVID tragedy shattered hopes for yet another year.
Attending nearby para cultural programmes, hours-long open music concerts at Kolkata’s Rabindra Sadan and other auditoriums, or watching a much-talked-about play meant to awaken a Bangali’s mind and spirit, have been some of the highlights of Poila Baisakh. But as per the ‘new normal’, this time, too, most of the events have gone virtual.
Not to mention the Poila Baisakh-special Bengali delicacies. A typical Noborborsho breakfast at home means luchi and aloo or chholar dal (chana dal) with jalebi. Lunch cannot be complete without kosha mangsho. Home-cooked food will be relished this time as well but the much-awaited ‘pet pujo’ with friends at one’s favourite restaurant may not be the same anymore. From being on alert in case you came too close to the one in front or at the back in the huge queue outside the eatery, to panicking about proper disinfection of the table and crockery — there is a lot that comes in your way. Even the regular tele bhaja (pakodas) or lebu cha (black tea with lemon) sold by chaiwallahs in aluminium kettles at the city’s hotspots cannot be consumed without caution.
Poila Baisakh, last year, was steeped in uncertainties brought by the pandemic. One year down, the scare remains, but most of us are at least trying to make peace with how life looks today, bracing ourselves for challenges without breaking down. As artistes will move from the stage to virtual channels, the audience will dress up in new clothes– perhaps bought online–and will log in to watch their favourite celeb perform live but on the other side of the screen.
Distant relatives and friends, who could not make it home this time, will be greeted on video calls. Gifts will be sent through online portals. And all that would be left after a scrumptious Bengali meal, would be the grabbing of pillows and immersing oneself in ‘bhaat ghoom’ (afternoon nap).
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