14. Apr, 2015

Travelling Back in Time

It is now the year 1422 - Happy New Year to you all (or “Shubo Nobobosho” as it is said here). The New Year is known here as ‘Pohela Boishakh’. ‘Pohela’ stands for ‘First’ and ‘Boishakh’ is the first month of the Bengali calendar. It’s the equivalent of us calling New Year ‘First of January’ which, of course, many of us do. Given that they celebrate on the 14th of April, it also happens to coincide with New Year days in many other Southern Asian calendars e.g. ‘Songkran’ in Thailand. It coincides with New Year’s Day in countries such as Burma, Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, amongst others. As for the actual year of 1422 itself, this is very much a Bangladesh thing. 

The story I read is that King Shoshangko of ancient Bengal is credited with starting the Bengali era. The starting point of the Bengali era is estimated to be in 594 in the Gregorian calendar. Hence the Bengali year is 594 less than the Gregorian calendar if it is before Pohela Boishakh, or 593 less if it is after Pohela Boishakh. Therefore, as of today, it is now the year 1422. 

We celebrated seeing in the New Year here in an exclusive private club on account of our friend’s membership there. Depending on the occasion, and time of year, one is expected to wear clothes of a certain colour: the New Year requires clothing of a red and white nature. Despite extensive research (a quick Google search), I can’t, for the life of me, find out why red and white in particular, as opposed to a different colour. Perhaps some of my Bangla friends can enlighten me? Anyway, this being so, I procured a red Panjabi and some white trousers. My only previous experience of buying a Panjabi here was awkward to say the least. Not only did the seller not like the idea that I may actually wear the thing, but also barged in several times whilst I was in just my underwear, and became increasingly frustrated when I continuously requested one that was wider at the shoulders. I can only conclude that shoulders are not generally wide here – I refuse to believe that I’m actually a size XXXL!! (Unless we’re talking about underwear…..ladies…..) No such issues this time though, they were more than happy to help me find the appropriate clothing. As I’ve said before, people are brutally honest here so, when they said that these made me look “ok”, that was good enough for me. Only negative comments might cause me to reconsider, as they would anybody. One friend of mine turned to me once and said “Ems, I might have to stop wearing short dresses. They’re really comfortable and they show off my body, but I hate hearing the negative comments such as ‘your legs are really hairy’ and ‘your willy is hanging out’” 

The club had made an effort, of that there is no doubt. In addition to a buffet containing Pantā-Bhāt (leftover rice soaked in water), onion, Shōbuj Lōnkā (green chillies), Āchār (pickles),dāl (lentils) & Bhāja Elish Māch (fried Hilsa fish), there was also a concert, some snake charmers, a puppet show, some bouncy castles, and plenty of stalls: there was something there to keep us all amused. We started off with a cup of green mango juice. It was lumpy, luminous green, slightly warm, and generally looked like it had been drunk, and vomited, already. It tasted even worse! But, when something is bought for me, I have no choice but to consume it. I’m sure that my face turned a similar shade of ‘gross’ soon after. 

I spent most of my time with one eye on the snakes (for safety reasons – and because I’m a big wuss), and the other on the puppet show (for entertainment purposes – and because I’m still a child at heart…..and at mind). Despite this, I missed out on what is apparently a very rare occurrence. Miss USA tells me that she witnessed one of the snakes have a poo. Having already on this trip witnessed lizards ‘doing it’, a monkey being taken for a stroll, and a dog peeing on another dog, I’m more than a tad gutted that I failed to add this event to my list. 

The celebrations definitely had an uplifting effect on people, with everyone dressed to the nines. Young women wore white saris with red borders, and adorned themselves with tip (bindis), churi (bangles) and fūl (flowers). All the men meanwhile take this chance to ‘peacock’ in their best Panjabis and aviator shades. It seems that you’re not considered cool here unless you have a wicked pair of aviators – it also allows you to let your eyes wander discreetly. It also made for an oh-so-fun-and-not-at-all-dignity-sapping game of “Let’s find Ems a Wife”. There are no winners in this game: unfortunately, I’m probably in the wrong place to find a tall, blonde, pig-tailed, freckled, rich super-model in her early twenties. I don’t think I’m asking for too much, am I? 

New Year’s resolution #1 – Stop looking for a woman who doesn’t exist

New Year’s resolution #2 – Stop accepting drinks that look, smell, and taste like toxic waste

New Year’s resolution #3 – Watch a snake have a poo