Visiting ancestral homes during festivals is universal. Although in highly developed countries the trend has long been on the wane thanks to wholesale rural migration to the cities, it survives in Asia. In the developed Europe and North America, many people set out on tours abroad during Christmas holiday. Travelling home in Asia stands out with its unique fervour and the spectacular character. Many countries in Africa and South America, too, have retained their own versions of this age-old tradition. The practice of celebrating great festivals with the near and dear ones is in place in both the fast developing and less developed countries in Asia. Millions of urban Chinese are found in a joyous rush for their hometowns to celebrate the Chinese Spring Festival. The eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year also marks the event. It is China's largest festival celebrated for a week between January 21 and February 20. The annual festival-time migration from the Chinese big cities to hometowns has been recognised as one of the largest in the world. The Muslims and Hindus in South Asia become impatient to reach their village homes during their respective festivals. During the run-up to Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha, people in their thousands in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the Sub-continent leave the cities for their rural homes. To them, the Eid celebration remains incomplete unless they can share it with their close ones back in the villages.
In the greater region of Bengal in the past, including today's Bangladesh, travelling to outlying ancestral villages during Durga Puja would be viewed as an integral part of the festival. In course of time, the two Eids carved out a major place in the list of great Bengalee festivals. However, the Puja rush for villages had dominated the festival scenario in Bengal since the times as early as the mid-19th century up to the beginning of the 20th century. The Puja festivities organised by Kolkata-based Babus in remote villages are given a wide space in the novel-style sketches by Pyarichand Mitra and Kaliprasanna Sigha. Detailed portrayal of the festival began appearing profusely in the literary work produced in the 1920s and the 1930s. Compared to it, the Eid journey home and rural celebrations began finding a place in Bangla fictions much later, after the emergence of Dhaka as the other literary hub of the Bengalees, besides Kolkata, in the 1950s.
No matter how wide a focus they receive in today's fictions, the festival rush for village homes has continued to increase in Bangladesh. The spectacle these days is more distinctively noticeable compared to that in the past. A small number of people would visit villages to celebrate Eid back in the 1950s and the 1960s. In the days prior to the country's independence, the Eid rush for ancestral village homes did not constitute any significant view preparatory to the festival. Those were nowhere near the massively noticeable crowds as they are found today. There is a flipside. For a lot of people residing in Dhaka and the other large cities, the home-bound travel nowadays is not so much an obligation as it is part of the broader sphere of Eid celebrations. In spite of the travel-time ordeals gone through by the holidaying people, to the village-bound urban masses the journey remains filled with pure joy. Everyone apparently is in eager wait to meet their close ones back in the villages. When it comes to family reunions, the travails of the hours-long journeys hardly touch them. Even the dilapidated roads and highways and the spectres of accident that hover above hazardous motor-launch journeys do not trouble them. These journeys eventually emerge as a timeout for jubilation.
In the good old days, the rich people travelling to village homes during religious festivals were a different stock. They would include persons interested in organising sport and socio-cultural events. The times were not fraught and free of many present-day tensions and maladies. The village people used to eagerly await the arrival of these people from the city. Portrayal of many such people recurs in novels by Sharatchandra, Tarashankar et al. This was the social reality back in those days. Times have changed. In the eastern part of Bengal, now Bangladesh, these urban benevolent people have been conspicuous by their absence. Thanks to socio-cultural reasons, the Bangladesh of bygone days lagged behind West Bengal in the 1930s-50s. The dearth of affluent yet educated and enlightened people had been a stark reality in the period. It began changing in the 1960s with an increase in the city-bound middle-class people from across the whole rural Bangladesh. The trend picked up after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. Unfortunately, people visiting home-villages during Eid holidays were found mostly least interested in undertaking cultural ventures. This situation has prevailed for over four decades in the country. There are little signs that it will change for the better in the coming days. The handful of people eager to initiate the interested rural youths into cultural activities have been fading out of the scene in the last couple of decades. The process continues. These culturally oriented and enterprising people have disappeared from active life in many areas. In places, initiatives by the enthusiastic people to embark on something new and innovative have been met with opposition.
Like in almost every sector, the one related to the cultural uplift of the rural society in the country has lately been passing through bad times. The ancestral village-bound rush of the city people could have brought fresh whiffs of change to the rural youths. It indeed has, if one considers the new information and communication technology a gift for the rural landscape. The rural youths have increasingly been getting engaged in the online world. But there are unwarranted developments, too. These include youths being enticed into the domains of cyber crimes and aberrant trends in the socio-cultural practices. This is occurring insidiously. Many unheard-of trends are allegedly being brought to the villages by a section of the holidaying masses which swarm on the rural swathes on the two Eid vacations. They are, in fact, agents of the so-called change, one which is opposed to harmony and assimilation. Outwardly, a few changes have taken place through reunions between the townsfolk and the rural people. The Eid vacation offers an ideal opportunity for these get-togethers. But to the distress of many, forces of discord have always bidden time. They do not fail to strike at the opportune moment. These forces wear many guises. They range from the one of a benefactor, a reliable guide to that of true soul-mates.
A new village-centric reality seems to have cropped up. But it troubles many, especially those born and brought up in villages. They have been looking forward to the times when the nation will warmly welcome changes in both elitist social and mass-level thoughts. Their seeds were sown in the country's War of Independence. Rural-urban get-togethers like those witnessed in villages during the two Eids could have veritably been a process of chemistry. It mixes rural orthodoxies with urban dynamism. The Eid assemblages have, thus, the potential for bringing the forces opposed to each other into a positive social platform. The nation can squander this promise only at its own peril.
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