In the cold land, let the soul be warm

Returning from the winter festival at Jahangirnagar University Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree writes about winter, nature and students’ artistic, creative labour today.

 
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Winter has come, and is going away with all its glory and sombreness. The country has experienced a colder winter compared to last few years. Densely populated cities and towns shivered, more shivered the remote parts of the country where trees are more in number than people.

On the last page of Hajar Bochor Dhore by Jahir Raihan, it’s Agrahayan month on Bengali calendar. This is the end of Hemonto, late autumn and the beginning of winter. The farmers’ homesteads are full with new crops; busy harvesters stay up late to preserve their golden harvest. At the end of a long tiring day, people gather around, the son of one Surat Ali melodiously starts reading from a Puthi — Bheluya Shundoree. In that moment, they live, they live for a thousand years; this picture enlivens winter in Bangladesh for us. No season is just another two months of the year, it is more about culture, custom, history and tradition for Bengali people. But alas, where should the cityscape place such soulfulness in its concrete structure?

Re-allocating a culture that is age-old, that is our own, is probably the key interest of Heem Utshob (winter festival), organised by Poromporay Amra, a bunch of youngsters of Jahangirnagar University. The close to nature environment that this campus owns is practically an unbeatable option for organising such a winter festival with cultural programmes. The festival took place at JU from January 18-20 and received a varied audience of students, teachers, cultural activists, art enthusiasts and ordinary people from the surrounding areas of Savar, a rather large crowd than usual.

Back in 2016, it occurred to a bunch of JU students that the winter in this campus is breath-taking and people have not seen the festive mood of this campus in this season. That was the start of it, with the initial plan of arranging a concert of Moheener Ghoraguli, they expanded the plan to arrange a combined cultural event that would later try to cover every sort of practising art forms — music, dance, poetry, paintings, photography and what not!

From among a hundred names, the name Heem Utshob was finally taken after much indecisiveness, and they decided to keep a tag line for each year’s festival.  This year the tag was, ‘In the cold land, let the soul be warm (হিম দেশে উষ্ণ হোক প্রাণ)’, given by Saimum Saeed, one of the core organisers, a poet and an economics student.

The tag line is as perfect as it gets. People who are long tired being pressed under the fast-pace of modern life, under the workloads of corporate world, students who can barely take a pause to breathe being overwhelmed by a semester-system mountain-like syllabus, this winter festival is just the break and mental peace that they need, that they can relate to and connect with, which will make them feel for at least a moment — life is not that bad you know!

 

This year's Heem Utshob was dedicated to lucky Akhand

This year’s ‘Heem Utshob’ was dedicated to lucky Akhand

That the young generation is highly technology based may have been stated and restated over thousands of times; but it does not make it go away by simply stating it. We have YouTube for songs, Netflix for movies and drama serials, satellite TV channels for our random entertainment, Instagram for showing our photography skills; all this is not necessarily bad, but what it did to us is that it has taken away the real from us and replaced the real with the virtual world. No matter how much virtual story telling can fill our eyes with water or become a treat to them, can it really give us the sensation we would get if we could live the moment? Movies and TV series are extremely fulfilling at times — and yet, a live drama, dance performance, a concert will still attract us like magnets. The reason is simple.  We can engage each of our senses to their fullest. The difference is that of a cold winter morning on the laptop screen and that of feeling every chilly bite on the skin while having warm tea. The festival is a sip of that warm tea on a winter morning for art enthusiast people.
Ghatu song and dance, day two

This year’s Heem Utshob was dedicated to the recently lost gem of our music industry, Lucky Akhand, whose songs touched and softened hearts in plenty with the magic of his regular words. What can ever replace songs like Amay Deko Na, Abar Elo Je Shondha, or Ei Nil Monihar from our minds? Nothing!

The first day of this festival this year had a classical music session at Selim Al Deen Muktamancha (Selim Al Deen Open Stage) and a day-long painting and photography exhibition at the cafeteria circle. On day two, they arranged an art camp from nine in the morning. They performed Poter Gaan too, a form of folk music where one sings describing a picture painted on a piece of cloth, this performance was followed by Gambhira songs and a rather lively performance of Ghatu song and dance. On the third and last day, there was again an exhibition and the festival ended with a concert and the release of album ‘Ghora’ by Shohojiya band. The photo exhibition included photos taken by Hasan Saifuddin Chandan and Syed Latif Hossain. There was a great line up of local bands and artists playing in the concert including Kafil Ahmed, Ascharya Meghdal, Gaan Poka. In the tongue of millennials, the concert was literally ‘lit’ and just the enthusiastic end the event deserved.

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I could only be there on the last day, thanks to modern busy life as I have mentioned before! Mornings at JU are always something I pursue with all my heart, the fog, the dispersed sun rays coming through the branches of huge monstrous trees which we barely get to get a glimpse of in the city, the lovely breeze by the ponds, the red lilies, a plate of spicy fuchka followed by a cup of tea, what is there not to love?

The organisers were still working on the last day’s exhibition and stage decoration. The passion and love for intricate details is visible on their faces. A girl is telling her friend that she has a presentation next morning, she will have to wear a Saree too, and yet, she is here, working on the exhibition. Another student is seen hurriedly carrying a ladder for the stage decoration, some sitting here and there being tired after putting much effort in painting white cloths and pinning green and grey leaves on them, winter, you can see on those pieces of clothes! They feel the nature, and they can bring it out to our eyes in a way that only fits inside the greenery of JU, in that mild winter breeze, in those steps of Muktamancha. One would wish to live in that moment forever.

Talking about Selim Al Deen Muktamancha, Heem Utshob is not the first of such cultural event at JU. Renowned playwright Selim Al Deen and poet Muhammad Rafiq in their times had arranged a cultural gathering under the Mohua tree in front of the new arts building.  It was known as Mohua Utshob, sitting under a dim light, the art enthusiasts would discuss poetry, drama and arrange performances. A student of JU of that time says how intimate and capturing those moments felt, he thought an entire lifetime could be spent reading poems and singing songs; reality hit him hard later. The legacy of Mahua Utshob has definitely been lived on by the later generation through Heem Utshob. The artsy souls of JU know how it feels to be imprisoned by business and capitalism, this festival is to take people away from that harsh reality for a few days and recharging them to go back and keep fighting to live on.

Saeed mentions a positive outcome of this event, as he said how being praised for his art series Joloj Joba by a renowned photographer of the country made him feel content about his work. He also mentions how a certain form of art and culture is imposed on the artists for a better market value and their real talent is being pressed down, they do not get the exposure that they need to truly emerge as a creative cultural individual or group. But this festival is a platform where the artists can present the core and raw form of their creations, and get a much needed constructive criticism along with the appreciation. It’s true, the release of album ‘Ghora’ on the closing day of Heem Utshob vouches for the notion.

Heem Utshob as it seemed, is not just another cultural event to hog the limelight in the university arena. One of the organisers has clearly stated that their attempt is not one for seeking attention, rather a deep desire to preserve and present the beauty of winter and the tradition and culture that comes with it. As an audience sits on the ground or on a Muktamancha step, the evening starts getting cold, and there you have some of the best classical musicians soothing away each of the soul present there; or being captured and lost in the folk music, thinking of a distant green village, about its earthiness, and suddenly find themselves in a wide mud-road, going where the fog takes them to. There is no class or power divisions in that thought, no poor and rich, no young and old, there are just some broken, tired soul, getting a peaceful rest.

When we look at our universities these days, chaos speaks out; students are much engaged in fighting each other than fighting the demons within us. In such a time, maybe such cultural involvement could get them a step closer to life and contentment, away from violence, to unity.

 

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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