5 days ago

Taking heart from boat races

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The recent spurt of 'nouka baich' (boat race) in the country's rural and semi-rural areas remind many of the fact that Bangladesh is a river-filled country. At the same time it shows that the typically Bengalee sport-cum-amusement has managed to weather all the gusts of change through the ages. In the areas lacking rivers and navigable canals and 'haors', people engage in events that require vast swathes of land.  In spite of being largely agrarian, Bangladesh has never lacked its joy and festivities over the native rural sport events. No matter if the site is located on the bank of a river, or a dry area filled with aridity, one or another sport event has to be present there. The rural people have been fond of all kinds of native sports for ages. Among them, the boat race emerges as the most popular. The others include 'kabadi', 'dariabandha', swimming competition, 'lathi khela' (stick wielding) 'ghore-dour' (horse race) or 'boli-khela' (a kind of wrestling), and many localised events. In the span of the last fifty years, football has carved out a remarkable place in the rural sports arena. Cricket joined the village sports much later. But this gentleman's sport is nowhere near football in terms of popularity.

In the midst of so many sport events, the boat race is still found basking in its traditional glory and festivities. This special position of the event, full of excitement, and accompanying traditional songs, remains a great surprise to experts working on the changing pattern of cultural practices in Bangladesh. The feeling of surprise stems from the many facts related to the new trends in people's recreational life. Amazingly, when it comes to 'nouka baich', the general people are found filled with the thrill and excitement which they demonstrated in the past. But there are disadvantages, too. Those include the fast dying of rivers across the country. It is the syndicates of formidably powerful river grabbers who continue to encroach on the many otherwise lively river flows.

 Many villagers attribute the unabated drop in the number of 'baiches' to the slow deaths of myriad rivers and their tributaries.  The deaths of these rivers are mainly expedited by the 'encroachment 'racketeers'. A few of them at times might feel repentant. They are aware of their misdeeds. But their narrow interest and greed overrides their conscience. One of their misdeeds is they deprive the common people of a breath-taking amusement, not experienced frequently. The common notion is it is the season of monsoon when the rivers are in spate which is the ideal time for boat races. Experienced people do not agree. They find the rivers in a mild form of flow to be the most suitable for boat races.

In the season of late monsoon, rivers in the country's south-western, north-eastern and central regions were once considered ideal for organising boat races. It was in these mid-width rivers that a few 'baiches' were held in the last couple of months. With the season of the rain-fed rivers fully over, and many going back to their often-obstructed flows, the season of boat races starts petering out. Against this present state of rivers, the rise in the number of boat races prompts many to take heart, and feel the joy of watching the traditional sport once again in the country. Had the recreational sport event's revival carried the long-cherished message regarding the country's rivers, nothing could have been more auspicious. Organising boat races in the rivers of Bangladesh, like in the past, would have carried the unequivocal message: the rivers are getting back their normal shape. Many will, however, call this hope a pipedream.

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