On the eve of Pahela Baishakh last week, I was among a large group of enthusiastic Bengalis in London. The enthusiasm was perceptible in the way they remembered the home country, despite their being citizens of the United Kingdom now. It is a most cheering sight observing the fervor with which our Bengalis settled in Britain remember the culture they were born to, the heritage they try to uphold in their adopted country. They speak of poetry, they sing old songs, their minds are exercised by the politics we live through every day in Bangladesh. When they come together, it is that camaraderie defining Bengalis, wherever they are around the world, which binds them in happiness.
At the Pahela Baishakh celebrations last week --- and I had earlier been invited by Syed Nahas Pasha, a leading figure in the Bengali community --- it was for me an occasion to come across quite a good number of individuals whom I had the pleasure of knowing back in the days when I served as media spokesperson at our High Commission in London. They remembered me and, of course, I remembered them. The reunion brought back a fairly good number of memories. There was Anis Ahmed, the Anis Bhai I first came to know as a student in the second year at Notre Dame College, where I took admission in 1973. Anis Bhai moved on to the English department of Dhaka University and I followed him there. He became a teacher in the department. I did not.
And then we met up in London, when Anis Bhai was with the BBC Bengali Service. Soon after I returned to Bangladesh in 2000, Anis Bhai moved over to Washington to join the VOA Bengali Service. He is yet there. Last week in London, it was a happy moment catching up with him at the Baishakh celebrations at the London Bangla Press Club, an association of Bengali journalists involved with the Bangla media in the United Kingdom. Anis Bhai unveiled his new collection of poetry. The recitations which followed enhanced the Bengali ambience.
There was my good friend Zaki Rezwana Anwar, with whom I keep in contact whether I am in Dhaka or London. It is a huge pleasure sharing some light moments, bubbling with wit and humor as they are, with Zaki. She is a doctor and an artistic one at that. At the Baishakh celebrations, she rendered a Tagore song that left the crowd mesmerized to no end. Uday Sankar Das, with whom I often interact in Dhaka, was also around. Uday da, like me, is on a visit to London. His recitation, or abritti, of a poem from Anis Ahmed’s book was a superb act. He and I cracked jokes, of the sort we always do back home.
A particular, though unintended and unplanned, aspect of the Pahela Baishakh celebrations was the presence of three men who will always be remembered as having served the Bangladesh High Commission in London as ministers (press). One of these men was this scribe of course. There was, besides, Abu Musa Hasan, who replaced me in 2000. He is now settled in Britain. And, to be sure, there was the present minister (press) Nadeem Qadir, who has been doing a fantastic job in his position. It was quite a remarkable moment when the three of us stood together and engaged in a conversation, a sight that Zaki Rezwana Anwar did not miss observing. I joked that the three of us were a future government.
Syed Anas Pasha, the indefatigable journalist, was there too. His son Mahatir was instrumental, as a leading student voice, in organizing a seminar on the March 7 speech by Bangabandhu at the London School of Economics last year. Biswadip, who has of late been in London and works for bdnews24. com from here, was also there. A very decent young man, Biswadip has steel in him as a journalist. The sad truth, however, is that in all the excitement of the celebrations, I had very little time to converse with him.
And the food? It came in pure Bengali form and substance. Nahas had already informed guests that bhuna khichuri with ilish bhaja would be served. When I stepped inside the premises of the Micro Business office on Greatorex Street in east London where the celebrations were on, I noticed Musa Hasan handling the frying of the ilish. I asked Nahas if Musa was putting the necessary quantity of salt to the fish. All three of us had a good laugh about it.
The food was hot and succulent. The songs went on as we ate. People said hello to each other. Individuals who had not met for a long time recognized one another, over mouthfuls of chamcham.
And then Nadeem Qadir, forever a decent, polite and remarkable man, dropped me home. The remains of the night were for me a reminder of Pahela Baishakh back home --- in our little village where the roots of our clan reach deep down into the earth.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Associate Editor of Asian Age