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    Volume 2 Issue 48| December 19, 2010 | s


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Fleeting Charms of Dhaka Winter

Sameeha Suraiya

The true bliss of tea breaks on a lazy wintry afternoon. Photo: yamin tauseef jahangir
The favourite winter sport brings together people of all ages.

The wheel turns another full circle. Yet another year draws to a close as we the heat-beaten city-dwellers cannot help but notice the swirling changes around us. The falling leaves and the dewdrops glistening in the lazy sunshine convey a message that is all too dear and familiar. The heart leaps knowing that winter, the season that comes and goes by all too soon, is finally upon us. You know it is winter right away when you crave for an extra layer of clothing or from the goosebumps you get as soon as you climb out of bed. The mercury dips, and sipping steaming cups of tea become a more attractive ritual. Winter in Dhaka is much-awaited. As the cool spell descends, people are seen hoarding on winter clothes, clearing wardrobes off the summer wear to revamp them with attires carefully chosen according to the fashion of the season, while the chilly breeze promises to bring with it good times with friends and family heading back home from abroad.

Photo: Yamin tauseef jahangir

The excitement that only winter can bring is felt around every corner of the street and inside every home. Before the curtain of mist rolls up to present another new day of another new year, the

urban individual prefers to put those feet up to unwind while many more prepare for some exciting times with friends and family. The accidental sniff of the smell of burning leaves or the sound of leaves crunching under your feet triggers a sense of nostalgia as one looks back and begins to stack memories into neat piles. There is also a rush of renewal, a rush of something new about to happen. Right now, the year-end feeling is everywhere you look. And it will keep us Dhakaites on our feet as we try to catch hold of this elusive season as best as we can.

One of the many attractions of winter lies in its power to bring people together. Schools are out and big plans fall into place. What with all the activities that are special to winter only, families and friends come together to wrap up the year in their own ways. In a culture where it is all about belonging to each other, gatherings and re-unions, big and small are most looked forwarded to during the festive season. The biggest of them all are of course, weddings. Fairy lights of blue, red and gold wrap entire buildings and sometimes the entire length of a street, ushering in the glamour and glitz of the wedding season. Electricity woes are forgotten during the cool weather, allowing decorators to take full advantage of the lights that glitter away deep into the night. The month of December sees packed wedding dates and illuminated buildings around every street of a residential area. Out come the social butterflies while the reclusive ones shirk away, looking down upon what is thought to be an unnecessary affair of noise and chaos. The best friend and the special cousin flies home to be part of the celebration where more new matches for the eligible singles will be made. So packed are the weddings that it is a

Hot plates of pitha by the roadside is hard to say no to. Photo: Sazzad ibne syed

miracle that one finds the venue of choice free on a desired date. Raihan Mahmud, a banker soon to lose his bachelorhood, shares the mad chase for the venue of his choice. “We have always wanted a winter wedding at Shenakunja. We have been looking for an empty slot since the beginning of this year but they kept telling us they were booked for the entire season. Apparently, we were late for the bookings.”

There are similar stories of not being able to find the perfect venue, of couples waiting out months for the perfect winter wedding. The lucky ones are of course over the moon as preparations begin in full swing.

Winter in Dhaka is also about holidays with students studying abroad flying back to their nests as universities close down. Textbooks and endless notes rightfully take a backseat making this time of the year all the more special. Winter for these people mean home and all the good things it stands for, things they swear never to take for granted! Cereal and re-heated slices of hardened pizza are left behind and replaced by hot chotpoti on the street side and grandma's pitha. Shabab Ahmed Chowdhury, a returning student from Macquarie University, Sydney elucidates how coming back home during this season is always great as Bangladesh at this time, is at its best. “We usually take a day out of the city. Everything about winter in Bangladesh feels so good. And then there is the New Year's, which is always fun no matter what you do when you're back among school friends. I feel compelled to return every winter, and the best part about it is of course, the pithas!”

A common scenario of people shopping for warm clothes.
The enduring beauty of winter find its unmistakable presence in our busy lives. Photo: sazzad ibne syed

Pitha, the heavenly rice cakes, are undeniably an inseparable part about winter in Bangladesh. Today's Dhaka may not be as involved with the affairs of Nobanno Utshob or Poush Shonkranti, both festivals that welcome winter with pitha and other delicacies. It is, however, not alien to regular pitha uthshobs that are held all over the city, from university campuses to any open space. Dhaka University organises one of the biggest pitha uthshob on the premises of Institute of Fine Arts, populary known as Charukola, where anyone with the magic hands needed to make pitha can participate. Our streets take on a different look too, as men and women sell freshly made pitha sitting in makeshift stalls, while some are armed with only a simple pan and clay stove. The queues that form for this wonderful winter delicacy is hard to miss and more people crowd around to try out for themselves and entice their taste buds. Some taste sweet, dripping in honey, while some are fiercely hot on the tongue, and they are the perfect munchies that warm you up right to the core on a chilly evening. Having pitha, whether you are huddled among friends by a makeshift stall or trying out its many variations that your mom made right at home is a social activity that people of all ages enjoy. It is just one of the many ways that winter brings people closer.

Photo: Yamin tauseef jahangir

Badminton, the favourite winter sport returns once more, and it is wonderful how it creates strong camaraderie among the teens and adults of different neighbourhoods. Just when you mourned over the alienation that modern urban life faces, the lights from a badminton court, which that has been chalked out on some dead-end street or the rooftop, lure out faces that were strange just the previous day. The swooshing sounds of rackets as they slice through the air and the squeak of sneakers on the pavement beckon the shyest boy or girl from his or her room. The younger ones patiently wait out their turn as apus and bhaiyas battle each other, and soon names are remembered and cheered. Ladies too are seen out on the courts, something that is never seen the rest of the year. 15-year-old Anas is an active player who shares a court on one of the empty streets in Dhanmondi. He cannot wait till school is over so he can play for longer hours. Also, he wishes there were fewer aunties on the court. “Since all of us are waiting for our own slice of time, we get impatient when an aunty next door wants to join in and have a game with aunties from other flats. They take late swings and so the game drags on!” Mizan, an Advanced Level student considers playing badminton to be the best part about the winters in Dhaka. He plays on his rooftop court, which he painstakingly drew out as proper as the space would allow. However, he longs for more open spaces and proper courts where more players can play.

“I recently went to the Cantonment to play with a friend. I envied the wide courts on every open field and lawn. It feels pretty cool to gear up right for a proper game of badminton. I wish there were more open spaces to play badminton in other residential areas.”

Weddings are the biggest and most anticipated events come winter season. Photo: yamin tauseef jahangir

While some may take it to the ward commissioner or other local authorities for a proper court, badminton enthusiasts usually build a court on their own. Courts are also erected in a few empty school grounds and sometimes in university campuses. The 20 feet deep pond in Dhaka University that never got filled up provides a good ground for intensive rounds of badminton. Students take over once the sun sets and games continue late into the night. In fact, this space is as much coveted by musicians too as sometimes it transforms into a space for music lovers, one of the many quirks of winter! As winter sets in, so does the season of gigs and concerts. The previous week saw two very successful concerts, one being the last Tribute concert at Sheraton and the other that had a vital cause -- helping the Aila victims, which was held at Cuppa Coffee, Gulshan. Yet another winter concert took place at the Roadhouse arena in Gulshan 2, where young bands got together and jammed to their hearts' content. Both the concerts boasted of the most wanted line up in town and needless to say, both saw big and successful turnouts. Music aficionados look ahead to more such shows which are expected to take place in the many lounges and other open spaces.

Winter brings together many souls for a brief time till the time comes once again to split apart and start afresh. Here's to lasting memories and new beginnings!

The concert season returns, attracting pools of young music lovers. Photo: shamsul islam-shakill

Photo: sazzad ibne syed

Clear your Closets!

Decembers in Dhaka is one of the most eventful months of the year. Victory Day is celebrated with joy and solemnity while preparations for Christmas and New Year's begin. Caught amidst the craze of it all, let us not forget our responsibilities as priviledged citizens. Starting from schools and universities to the many active non-profit organisations and youth volunteering groups, warm clothing drives will be carried out during the entire length of the winter season. Spare a thought and start donating!

Look out for the Mosquitoes!

As Dhaka gears up to wrap up the year in style, some laze under the late afternoon sunshine, the air bearing whiffs of burning leaves and dhup to repel mosquitoes. Sitting in the traffic, you jump to a hiss and a pop outside the window. A man just showed you a demonstration of ingenious mosquito killing. The electric rackets that promise to fry the winged devils are everywhere on the streets in this season. The mosquito nets that have been locked inside closets come out. Sale of sprays and coils surely rocket upwards during this time. Yet, despite the red welts, winter in Dhaka is too short and eventful not to be enjoyed and be caught under its spell.


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