Shubho Nobo Borsho 1421 – on missing Bangladesh

Yesterday was New Year’s Day in Bangladesh – Nobo Borsho as it is called. Shubho means lucky or happy so my title is literally Happy New Year! This is the traditional greeting for Bangladeshis around the world at this time. Of course, many don’t pay much attention outside Bangladesh itself, but inside the country it is a most wonderful celebration.

Although originally just a means for celebrating the beginning of a new tax year instituted, if I recall correctly, in the Mughal period of India (one friend on Facebook reminded me that it is the new year for Indian Tamils too), the celebration of Pohela Boishakh (the other name for the occasion) is a very special one. Pohela means ‘first’ and Boishakh is one of the Bengali months. Calendar systems are a bit complicated in Bangladesh and this includes Bengali months which start in the middle of the Western-system months. Hence, Pohela Boishakh is the first day of the first month of the new year which, with this system, is 1421.

What’s great about the celebration is that it is without religious connotation so everyone in the country can join in fully as Bangladeshis regardless of their cultural background. Likewise, there is nothing about the awful history of the War of Independence so this celebration is entirely one of joy. This makes it one of the celebrations I most enjoy, not least because – being a fully hot-blooded male (for which I make no apologies) – it’s a time when women look their most beautiful!

There is little which is more beautiful than seeing Bangladeshi women dressed up in their finest for special occasions such as weddings (one of my favourites), the new year or any of the many celebrations Bangladesh is famous for. Though the men can look pretty darned handsome too, it is the ladies who make the effort. The swirl of traditional colours red and white or the national colours red and green which make up the national flag wrapped in a variety of styles and fashions around the women is a pleasure to view as art if nothing else. Much better than the uniform jeans and T-shirt which seems to be the norm in the UK for our New Years Eve celebrations!

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But this year, nobo borsho has been sad for me. Firstly because it reminds me that the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building is soon approaching. Secondly because I’m not there in Bangladesh to celebrate the occasion for the first time in six years. The pain of separation isn’t receding; only life gets busier. I guess that’s something I suppose because an idle mind just goes to waste and festers away – being busy keeps it exercised. But still. I wish I was there celebrating the day with my friends and family at LAMB. This time last year I was recounting these days knowing they were my last. I guess this year I’ll be reminiscing about days gone instead.

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About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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20 Responses to Shubho Nobo Borsho 1421 – on missing Bangladesh

  1. Norah says:

    You know I thought Pohela Boishakh would stay out of the “religion vs culture war”, but apparently it’s a part of it as well. I read up on it in Wiki, how it might have Hindu roots (didn’t read the details but I think it has to do with the names of the month). And then a guy pointed this out to me seeing our Pohela Boishakh dinner photo, saying how he’s against the whole concept etc. I think it’s just so sad because this is one of those days when we can truly bring forth our rich culture. There is soooo much in our culture… sometimes I wonder what these people think our culture really is. You won’t be left with much if you remove everything that’s based on Indian or Hindu culture. But just because it’s based on that doesn’t mean it hasn’t developed into something fully Bangladeshi, which I think it has.

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    • That makes me sad because it’s quite unjustified and is simply racism I think. While there are Hindu origins to Pohela Boishakh is was re-instituted by a Muslim king and is nothing but a secular celebration for tax purposes. There is nothing in Islam which prevents such a thing and the whole festival itself is without any religious meaning at all. Any prejudice against it is simply snobbery and indicative of the kind of pettiness many Bangladeshis are guilty of. I would counter this guy you know by suggesting he is being anti-Bangladesh because the country has shown you can hold to a faith AND be successful as a secular state – and that includes such things as Pohela Boishakh. To denounce it for Hindu origins is to denounce the Bengali nature of Bangladeshis and is a hint of the attitude which was taken by the rajakars in 1971 who decided which Muslim was Muslim enough and which was really ‘a Hindu’ and deserving of torture, rape and murder. The victory of Bangladesh is that such thinking should have no place at all in a truly free society – THAT’S what was fought for so fiercely in 1971!

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  2. Actually, the colours of Pohela Boishakh are red and white…. Other than that though, I liked the interesting tidbit about it being, originally, a celebration of the new tax year. Though why one would create such a wonderfully joyful festival for paying one’s taxes is entirely beyond me.😛

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    • Quite correct David – though national colours are always acceptable of course. I have edited the text accordingly so thanks for pointing out my small error.

      The reason was that it cleared away all the tax issues of the previous year and landlords and shopkeepers would put on fairs with sweets and treats to tempt clients to renew their business dealings with them. The idea grew until it became a celebrations for all – not just for businesses!

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  3. come back to Bangladesh then!!! We meet at Kolkata😉

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  4. Shubho Nobo Borsho!
    April 14, 2014 was celebrated as New Year in quite a few parts of India. In some parts, it was celebrated on April 15. In some other parts, it was celebrated on March 31. (The dates according to the ‘English’ calendar vary from year to year.)

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  5. Beautiful memories, Ken….
    Happy AND Lucky New Year!😉

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  6. Ladygardenia says:

    I can feel how much you, tooo… miss Bangladesh!! Here in UK, yea, even in Asian area where we live, I didn’t see anyone dressed up besides t-shirts and stuff lol, which is normal here, so sad..

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  7. Shubho Nobo Borsho!
    I’d love to start again.. and maybe I will!😛

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