poila boishakh haal khata

Poila Boishakh — A Day of Adda, Great Food, and Festivities in Kolkata

Moonmoon looks forward to going to her parent’s house every year on Poila Boishakh along with her husband Raj. Raj looks wonderful in red and cream punjabi-pyjama, appropriate for the day. And of course, a red and white handloom saree for her.

Poila Boishakh is another day in the Bengali calendar when everyone loves to wear new dresses.

The day passes with sonorous recitations of poetry by Raj, immaculate rendition of Tagore songs by her mother, the enjoyment of traditional Bengali cuisine, and intermittent sessions of quintessential adda.

However, for 24-year-old Ranjan, Poila Boishakh arrives with a pleasant promise.

The day is unlike any other.

After days of rehearsal, he can finally present a few Tagore songs on the open-air makeshift stage in their gated community to ecstatic sounds of claps. Added to it are the considered looks of admiration he receives from the young members of the fairer sex.

For Mr. Chaturvedi though, it is a day to drown in long chit-chat with his Bengali friends in the morning.  He usually finishes off with an invitation to enjoy dhokar dalna and mochar ghonto from his colleague Mr. Mukherjee.

And for Sunetra, a vivacious college-going girl, repeated visits to shopping malls and online portals take place before the day arrives. For her, Poila Boishakh is a day of hanging out with her friends, and maybe a movie together in the afternoon.

The Tradition of Haal Khata

Although Poila Boishakh is a holiday, for some it is quite a working day.

For example, Subirbabu. Subirbabu has been running a grocery and provisions shop for decades in North Kolkata. Since the days of his father who established the shop, Laxmi Narayan Bhandar, there is a puja in the morning. The new ledger book for the year, Haal Khata, is put up before the Gods first with drawings of the swastika and some smearings of vermillion. Entries will be made only after the puja.

Subirbabu never fails to invite his loyal customers for some pleasantries, a packet of sweets, and a Bengali calendar. Even on these days, a Bengali calendar is quite appreciated because it contains the ready reference of ‘tithi-nakshatra’, auspicious and inauspicious times.

Subirbabu spends his whole day in his shop amid high expectations of a profitable Bengali new year.

Lilting Tagore Songs in the Summer Breeze

”Esho hey boishakh…”

”Byartho praner aborjona…”

”Nobo anande jago aji…”

You have heard them a hundred times. You have heard them on every Poila Boishakh, and on numerous other occasions.

But they are still fresh, especially when a fresh voice sings these songs. And even when you hear them in the voices of Hemanta Mukherjee or Kanika Banerjee, you drown in nostalgia.

Poila Boishakh can’t be complete without a throwback to Bengali cultural heritage, especially the towering creations of iconic Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

Boishakh is the month of his birth. Bengalis always remember him on this day, on this month, the nostalgia culminating on 25th Boishakh.

The legacy of Tagore lives on. In the signings of young men and women in residential complexes, in the enactment of Mayar Khela or Shapmochan in an evening soiree, in the impromptu recitation of Sonar Tori in a social gathering, his legacy continues.

A deep dive into Bengali cultural ethos is almost mandatory in Poila Boishakh.

A Day to Relish Bengali Delicacies

However, for Moonmoon’s mother, this day isn’t only fun and games but has its own challenges.

As her daughter and son-in-law would be visiting, she must make an elaborate preparation.

This is a day when you start your day lazily, must have luchi and alur dum for breakfast. And, of course, some sweets. You just can’t do without some sweets on Poila Boishakh, can you?

Then you just slide into the adda session. Maybe the TV is on, and on a Bengali channel, there is also an adda going on with celebrities. Maybe a song is played, and you just sing along. Or recite a poem. Talk about the old times. Talk about the cultural milieu of Kolkata. One topic or the other, and the much-awaited call comes from the kitchen to announce that lunch is served.

Poila Boishakh lunch is always a mixture of the traditional and the trendy. You relish the fritters, fish paturies, dal, and mochar ghonto, and finish off with meat curry, daab chingri, followed by sweets (yes, again).

These days even premium eateries are offering such a Bengali menu and they are generally a sell-out.

How to Get the Best of Poila Boishakh

If you want to get the best of Poila Boishakh in Kolkata, join your local cultural programme. Even if you don’t perform, at least watch and encourage. Nowadays, gated communities have become islands of Tagoreana. If you live in one, just join.

Keep your t-shirts and a pair of jeans for another day. Wear that cream and maroon punjabi pyjama or the saree you bought for this day only. There are myriad options of ethnic dresses for the occasion.

Focus on Bengali food on Poila Boishakh and ditch that pizza at least on this day. There are a huge number of recipes in Bengali cuisine and you can have quite a culinary adventure.

And moreover, join in any adda with gusto. Tell a story, sing a song, or recite a poem.

Just enjoy the day.

Have fun.

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