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Poila Baisakh Blues
AS a lad, the beginning of the Bengali New Year meant a day when I got up late, had a lavish breakfast (where jilipis featured prominently on the menu), dressed up in my new finery and visited friends and relatives to gorge on the delicacies laid out by diverse indulgent pishis, mashis, kakus, jethus, dadus and didas.
Evenings were reserved for visiting the neighbourhood shops whose proprietors would provide similarly fattening fare for one’s corporeal self. When I lived in Rabindranath’s abode of peace, I looked forward to a day when I could savour the evening breezes that provided a welcome respite from the sapping heat of the Birbhum summer and visit friends to talk of momentous inconsequentialities over chilled glasses of spiritual succour. But mid-April was also the time when term drew to a close and students woke up to the fact that their annual examinations were peeking maliciously around the corner. The departmental Romeo realised with a start that he had to pass his exams if he was to retain his air of suave, unconcerned cool, and the young lady who was more concerned about her cuticles than her classes during term realised that pretty nails do not a passing grade make. One of my most memorable Poila Baisakhs occurred a few years ago, when a final-year student came to me fairly early in the day and confessed that he was not being able to concentrate on his studies because he didn’t want to do better than his girlfriend, who was appearing for the same exam, and whom he considered a more deserving student than himself. I seized this opportunity to give him an impromptu effusion on the need to be true to oneself and try to do as well as one possibly could; the virtues of the pursuit of excellence for its own sake; the errors of confusing academic performance with personal relationships; and so forth. He went away, as far as I could see, full of the will to succeed. A few hours later, as evening was falling, his girlfriend came to me and said she couldn’t concentrate on her studies because she was afraid she’d do better than her boyfriend… etc, etc! Fond memories all, yet, as we enter 1414 of the Bangla calendar, what I feel more than anything else is a sense of unease, even dread. The violence over land acquisition at Singur and the police firing at Nandigram, the debates over development that have been clouded over by the bloodletting and political sabre-rattling that show no signs of abating, the increasing (and seemingly unbridgeable) chasm between the haves and the have-nots – all these flit inside my head as I write this… Readers of this newspaper know of the troubles that have beset the premier institute of higher learning where I now work. Jadavpur University has been hogging the headlines for reasons that have nothing to do with its quest for academic excellence. Clashes between students, accusations hurled against teachers, class boycotts, strikes, criminal arson committed in the dead of night – these are not the things I want to remember about my alma mater and the place that now provides me with sustenance for mind and body. An abiding image of Poila Baisakh in my mind’s eye are the haal-khatas, those thick red-cloth-bound ledgers that are still ceremoniously inaugurated at traditional trading establishments, symbolising the clearing away of old dues and the commencement of a fresh, clean beginning. Time perhaps to hope that we, all of us, can find the individual and collective goodwill to inaugurate fresh new ledgers in our times and lives. (Samantak Das wishes all readers of The Statesman a peaceful and fulfilling Bengali New Year.)
Posted On : 21-4-2007
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