Winter festivals boost our rural economy

writes Muhammad Zamir | Published: February 20, 2016 21:05:49 | Updated: October 23, 2017 13:05:33


Children enjoying themselves at a village fair

Winter is looked forward to in our country. It is a season that arrives towards the beginning of December and lasts till the third week of February. It also assumes special importance because of the various festivals and significant occasions that dot its landscape.
This winter, like every year, handed down to us a procession of events-- of national and cultural importance. It has been a holistic experience that has brought happiness to the urban as well as the rural citizens of this country. Their inter-active engagement has been an important factor.
December initiated the process with the observance of the 'Victory Day' on December 16. This was particularly remembered and observed with national pride. There were formal as well as informal aspects that marked the occasion. After that came the regular convening of the Dhaka International Trade Fair. It was held in January with great enthusiasm and presented to the nation the advances made by our manufacturing sector in different directions. Visitors streamed into the fairground to savour progress and diversification in terms of choice. Stalls set up by foreign organisations not only opened up new dimensions for the consumers but also furthered the prospect of bilateral trade.
This was followed by the month of February-- a time-span that includes several dimensions. This year, the month of February has an additional day because 2016 is a leap year. As usual and as looked forward to by the people of Dhaka, it started with the Ekushey Boi Mela (Book Festival) from the first of this month.
Towards the middle of this month, Falgun/ Basonto (Spring) arrived with all its splendour. Yellow, red, orange and amber- dominant colours permeated the scene as Valentine's Day took over the horizon. Flowers of all description added to the ambience. The Jatiyo Boshonto Utshab Parishad-1422 organised cultural programmes in different parts of Dhaka on this day. Around the same time the Hindu community added sparkle to the festive atmosphere through their devotion and observance of their Saraswati Puja. Tolerance, culture and love dominated the urban life and its media coverage.
Then, we have the commemoration of Ekushey February and the International Mother Language Day. During this time, we- both young and old- recall the sacrifice made on this day in 1952 and how it helped to evolve the Bangalee identity. We recall its contribution towards the awakening of our dream that eventually led to our independence as a sovereign country.
Very soon afterwards as the Boi Mela comes to a close at the end of the month of February, we prepare ourselves to observe our Independence Day on March 26. The days leading up to this important national occasion is filled with numerous workshops, discussions and seminars. This ends with a parade that demonstrates the pride of the nation and its people for having the determination to initiate the War of Liberation that brought us an independent country.
As soon as this is over, comes April and with it Baishakh and the Bangla New Year. Cultural events- in the form of music, drama and poetry- dominate the scene.
Winter has by then left the scene, but certain common elements remain within the cultural paradigm-- flowers, handicrafts, music, dramatic presentations and books. I intend to refer to these factors and how they are contributing to the dynamics of celebrations and growth not only in our rural economy but also in certain tertiary sectors like handicrafts and publishing as well as in arranging multi-media presentations, workshops and seminars by the entertainment industry.
Readers will agree with me that no celebration during the aforementioned period would be considered as complete without the presence of colour as represented through the freshness, fragrance and glow of colours as present in flowers. This year, as indicated in the print and electronic media, has not been any different. However, the trend of using flowers was given a boost compared to last year because of the absence of violence and political turmoil that had marked the first three months of 2015. The demand was higher, the profits more and the transportation cost less. Florists in Godkhali in Jessore heaved a sigh of relief and thanked stability for their profits. Other florists are also hoping to recoup their losses of last year.
The last few days ahead of Pahela Falgun and Valentine's Day celebrations saw sales of flowers associated with these two events jumping to over Taka 80 million.
Shahbagh in central Dhaka and Khamarbari in Tejgaon have emerged as a major hub of flower trading-- both wholesale as well as retail--  because of its proximity to the Dhaka University campus and the Central Shaheed Minar. A representative of the Bangladesh Flower Society has mentioned that they produce flowers throughout the year but they always target the special days like Victory Day, December 31, Valentine's Day, national days and religious festivals. Lily, Cosmos, Zinnia, Daisy, Shimul, Roses, Polash, Gladioli, Marigold and Krishnachura find preference among the consumers as they symbolize youth, vigour and love.
Mr. Abdur Rahim, President of this society has remarked that the annual turnover of the flower industry in Bangladesh is no less than Taka 5.0 billion. It has also been revealed that flower cultivation, because of the economic opportunities that it provides, has now been extended also to Birulia of Savar, in Kushtia, in Jhenidah, in the Chittagong Hill Districts and also in Cox's Bazar. The florists are now planning to extend their presence to 20 Districts. Those associated with the flower trade have, however, pointed out two significant existing difficulties-- lack of adequate refrigerated transport and cold storages required for storage of the items. One would think that Public-Private Partnership could resolve these difficulties easily.
It would be pertinent at this point to note that other elements associated with these cultural festivals have also opened the doors to diversified economic progress. Our digital progress is also making itself felt within the cultural scene-- in the form of printing relevant pictures for each occasion on T-shirts, mugs and other accessories. Bangladeshi handicrafts producers who are mostly disadvantaged rural women are also active participants within this matrix. Their handloom fabrics and toys which generally find their way to Japan, Denmark, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom also make their presence felt during this time in different festivals in the urban areas. This is helping to boost rural employment and reduce poverty among thousands of rural families.
Tempting discounts are also being used to further holiday travel packages to the rural areas in Sylhet and Cox's Bazar and also provide special offers to take the family and friends to restaurants. The principle of sharing the cultural horizon is expanding the scope of economic activity and also its fallout for the rural economy.
This season of rejuvenation is furthered through the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela. Love for books find expression during this time. Nearly 100 new titles are formally presented to the Boi Mela visitors every day. Nearly 1700 new publications had entered the Mela scene by February17. It is being estimated that this year, the total number will cross 2,000 new publications. This includes collection of short stories, novels, plays, poetry, juvenile literature and serious academic works based on research. It may be mentioned here that three new books by me have also found their way to the Boi Mela. There are nearly 570 book stalls in this Boi Mela, scattered within the compound of the Bangla Academy and the Suhrawardy Uddyan adjacent to the Academy. The publishers have stated in the media that the turnout of visitors this year has been on the higher side and that this has resulted in higher sales- and that means greater profit for them. It is consequently anticipated that this will promote greater activity within the publishing industry.
Academics have, however, expressed their anxiety over the fall in the average standard of books that are now being published and presented to the audience in the Boi Mela. They have suggested that the publishers need to restrain their profit-making approach and abide by the rules associated with copyright laws. They have in this context also suggested that greater efforts be made with regard to the use of improved Bangla both in terms of writing as well as in its usage. Use of "Binglish" in the context of SMS as well as in the FM broadcasting process has been very correctly identified in this regard.
This has of course been possible because of the higher security level provided to the visitors to this area. One recalls in this regard the unfortunate violence and terror that was perpetrated last year in the Boi Mela that resulted in murder and mayhem.
We have our National Day in March and Pahela Baishakh waiting in the sidelines, ready to make their entrance on the stage a little later. We need to continue to share our happiness through our cultural and intellectual aspirations. This will also enable the rural sector of our economy to move upwards by fulfilling our goals.
 Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at muhammadzamir0@gmail.com

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