As the first light of morning paints the sky, diverse groups of people arrive at Kechuri Bill. Armed with poles and various nets, they walk along village paths for kilometres, anticipating the joy that awaits them. The air is thick with excitement as amateur fish hunters dive into the bill's waters, casting their hopes for a bountiful catch.
In the heart of Khagati village in Mathbari Union, Trishal Upazila, Mymensingh, the traditional Hait Utshab unfolds at the famous Kechuri Bill. This tradition transcends time, drawing thousands of avid anglers eager to take part in its unique charm.
The roots of this festival trace back to a time when the receding waters in post-monsoon marked the beginning of the fishing season across canals and reservoirs in the country.
Unfortunately, the abundance of fish in natural reservoirs has waned due to encroachment and pollution, making such festivals a rare sight. However, after years of absence, the event's announcement in Kechuri Bill stirred enthusiasm, spreading through different regions via word of mouth and social media.
As the rural fishing festivals diminish, enthusiasts from various upazilas flock to witness this grand event, where the thrill of fishing takes centre stage. The festivities resonate with the joyous clamour of those who catch their catches of fish, creating a vibrant atmosphere that captivates onlookers.
Once home to fish worth crores, the bill becomes a battleground for anglers seeking various local species, including Boal, Rui, Katla, Pangash, and Shoal. Despite the challenges posed by private fish enclosures (mandas) and the owners' pleas, the unstoppable tide of fish hunters descends upon the bill, echoing the struggle between tradition and the changing times.
The Manda owners lament the loss of their resources, emphasizing the yearly ritual of catching fish for sustenance. Amidst the clash of interests, the festival becomes a stage where communities struggle with the evolving dynamics of their shared spaces.
The festival attracts locals and visitors from nearby upazilas, transforming Kechuri Bill into a melting pot of fishing enthusiasts. While some celebrate the joy of a substantial catch, others find solace in harmony, such as Rafiq, a college student, who wonders at the unprecedented sight of countless individuals engaged in fishing.
The thrill of fishing is a magnetic force, drawing people from neighbouring upazilas to take part in the festival's collective energy. The Hait Utshab stands as a testament to the lasting appeal of this centuries-old tradition, supporting the sentiments of those who find joy in the simplicity of angling amidst changing times.