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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Whose festival is it any ways?

Since a special festival is just 4 days away, wonder if it would take a big guess for you if I ask you the question, “What is the biggest festival of Bangladesh?

I have thought about it for a while, asked acquaintances and friends. Some did say it must be Eid, but majority of the persons I asked opted for ‘Pohela Boishakh’, the Bangla New Year celebrations that take place every year on the 14th day of April. This is the time to remember and realize our Bengali heritage and our being ‘Bengali’. One time of the year when the Bangladeshi Bengalis make merry irrespective of their being Muslims or Hindus, Christians or Buddhists. One time of the year when the national culture takes pride beyond and above shallow bias towards ‘I am from Comilla and he is from Sirajganj, she is from Sylhet and they are from Khulna’, useless group-ism based on tiny districts of a very tiny country in the first place. So ‘Pohela Boishakh’ is the largest and widely accepted and celebrated festival of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Agree of Disagree?

Volley of questions yet again.

1. Tell me what is the biggest festival of the planet Earth?
2. If you have answered ‘Christmas’, why is this?
3. Why is ‘Christmas’ celebrated and cities and malls are decorated even in ‘Muslim’ countries like Malaysia, Indonesia? Or even in India?
4. Whose celebration is Valentine’s Day? English, French, Christian?
5. Can you guess how long will it take before we start celebrating Halloween in Dhaka? (some have already started donning the ghost masks in Gulshan and asking for a ‘treat of trick’)

The argument is, there seems to be an increasing trend of commercialising and commoditising festivals around the world. Those who have money and some brain and even very little religious or cultural affiliation to the festival in question, are making sure that the ‘rest of us’ celebrate it in a big way and help increase sales and merchandise before, during, after and surrounding that festival. This also has a psychological effect to consumers like us. Have you exchanged Christmas wishes to your friends last year through Facebook and other means, even though neither your nor your friends might be Christians? Pretty much like Valentine’s Day, does Christmas make you feel that ‘it is not only meant for Christians only’, rather it is the festival of the mass earthlings like you and me? Santa is so much fun isn’t it? What about the parties with Santa cap and wearing red and snow white? Please note that the argument is not against celebrating one particular festival by discarding it as alien, rather personally I am interested to have fun and make merry in each and any festival as long as there is an element of ‘fun’ in it. What makes me wonder is that till when shall we keep on dancing to others tunes? Lets be fair, if this is globalisation and internet has the power to blur geographic boundaries of cultures and nations, why not ‘others’ also start dancing in our tunes during ‘our’ festivals?

Great Grand Indians have already made sure that they have their footprints in every corner of the world (not sure about Antarctica though). They have carried with them the tradition of celebrating unique festivals like Holi and Diwali, nicely labelled as the ‘Festival of Colors’ and the ‘Festival of Lights’. That day is round the corner when the whole world (that includes mainly non-Indians) would play colors with each other in Times Square and Trafalgar Square and light up candles in their households on these ‘originally Indian’ festivals.

The argument is, it does not matter if the festival itself truly holds potential for branding as a ‘global festival’ or not, it all depends on the ‘merry makers’, bearers of that tradition to spot the global reach of their festivals and then spread it around the world, so that it not only becomes a global festival, but it also creates scope for merchandizing surrounding it, and promotes the nation, the culture throughout different channels and places.

Coming back to what we have.

1. How could Eid be celebrated so that it could create the mass appeal pretty much like other religious festivals? If you think its only meant for Muslims, and Islam in general advocates a toned-down festivities, then focus on the next point only.
2. If we have festivals like Pohela Boishakh, Nobanno Utshob, Pohela Falgun or even Shaheed Dibash (International Mother Tongue Day), what have we done so far and what more could be done to elevate these festivals to a global level and brand them as a ‘global festival, ‘originally celebrated by Bangladeshi Bengalis’?

Perhaps you are reading this article from Sydney, or Camden Town or Bricklane Brooklyn. Ask yourself what you have done during these festivals when you are on ‘foreign’ soil. Probability is very high that you 1) dressed up in traditional costume (controversy exists even there what our national costumer actually is) 2) drove to a community center or park 3) met fellow expats 4) ate ‘deshi food’ 5) listened to some Bangla songs, dance performances by wards of Bengali families, even by those of yours 6) took a lot of photos and uploaded it to flickr or Facebook 7) went back home happy. Right?

I tell you something, if we don’t brand our festivals first and fast, ‘someone else’ will certainly do it and due to their size and power and money and patriotism and branding techniques and whatever you say…we will not be left with much options.

Say what if

1. the Bangladeshi students abroad bring out a grand combined carnival (not separate ones based on political beliefs and districts) on Pohela Boishakh, emulating what happens in TSC (Charukala) on 14th April?
2. the expat Bangladeshis convince the Mayor of London or New York that the celebrations take place not only in our ghettos of Bricklane and Brooklyn, but we bring it on big time at Trafalgar Square and Time Square? This way the festivals will have a global exposure.
3. we arrange ‘speech games’ for foreign nationals on 21st February, we arrange language games, quizzes in universities and open areas involving a lot of foreigners, so that we can not only celebrate the day but also could promote ‘our’ brand of festivals to others, so that they eventually start practicing it as their own festival some day.

Word-of-mouth is being supplemented by ‘Word-of-mouse’ these days. Its good to see that Bangladeshi netizens making use of their social media profiles and making the best use of web 2.0 tools to atleast sing in one rhyme and rhythm on special occasions. But we ought to do more.

You might argue that cultural imperialism is directly related to economic imperialism and prowess. However, if there remains any rooms for branding blended with patriotism, lets turn the board around. Lets make sure Jim, Jack and Jane ALSO carry out colourful masked processions with dhak-dole, ektara, dotara on Pohela Boishakh, I am sure we are equally exciting if not more comparing with Mardi Gras and Nottinghill Carnival, true that we are devoid of flesh and lager, but we hold the chance to present the world a ‘cleaner’ version of festivals.

Shubho Nobo Borsho.



Kaisar Wahed said...

The article is realy brilliant. We should consider the ideas now otherwise the room for opportunities are not going to be available forever.

Anonymous said...

when did POHELA BOISHAKH becum' originally celebrated by bangladeshi bengalis;????? (pohela boishak in india is celebrated on the 15th day of april and thus the BONEDI hindu families in bangladesh still celebrate it on 15th of april in bangladesh begining with the HAAL KHATA and ganesh puja at their home n business establishments.The BENGALI root is inherited from west bengal,India n thus the culture.not to mention all the doings of bangladeshi bengalis to celebrate pohela boishakh r copied n practiced from west bengal only-be it eating panta-ilish or wearing red border white saree or even the MONGOL SHOVA JATRA.

even the concept of pohela falgun celebration started from bishwa bharati by rabindranath himself.and the color of the sarees worn on pohela falgun n the TIKA(a mark) worn on forheads n going on the streets with dhol-kortal is none other than shanti niketani culture!

cum up with smthing that u own not smthing copied n practiced in india and ofcourse 'originally celebrated by west-bengal bengalis in india'.