Sunday, January 20, 2019 | ePaper

Reflections on the English New Year and our expectations

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Professor Anwarul Karim, Ph.D :
Each English year 31st  Mid-night of December is celebrated by the Christians and others all over the English speaking world, welcoming the New Year that begins with January 1, making it a day of days praying, greeting and singing for  a very  happy and  undisturbed prosperous life.
The English New Year 's day on January 1 is, thus,  one of the oldest holidays and popular festival being celebrated  with pomp an grandeur. It follows both Gregorian and Julian calendar.
History records that the English New Year originated thousands of years back  in ancient Babylon . It was an eleven day festival on the first day of spring, Many cultures used the sun and moon cycle to decide the first day of the year.
The first celebrations of the New Year were found in about 2000 years in Mesopotamia. While the Persians, Phoenicians and the Egyptians celebrated the New Year in the middle of March that is during the time of Equinox, the Greeks celebrated it in the winter. According to the ancient Roman calendar, the New Year was celebrated on 1st of March. In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor officially declared 1st of January as the New Year. During the medieval period, 25th March was declared as the New Year. In later times, the King of England announced 25th December that is Jesus' birth as the New Year. Almost after 500 years, the Gregorian calendar came up whereby the ancient Julian calendar was abolished by Pope Gregory XIII and the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the year 1582.
People in many parts of the world dress colorfully and indulge in fun filled activities such as singing, playing games, dancing, and attending parties. Night clubs, movie theatres, resorts, restaurants and amusement parks are filled with people of all ages.
The idea is to wave goodbye to the year gone-by and welcome the New Year in the hope that it will invite truckloads of happiness and joy in everyone's life.
During the British  when India came under the colonial rule, the January 1 as the beginning of the New Year was celebrated in a befitting manner. The Indians with the British made the day as a glamorous one, feasting and merry making and glorifying the British as the savior of the country from the Mughol rule. Historian JaduNath Sarkar  declared the British rule in India as the most civilized and enlightened parts in Indian life in comparison to the Turkish and the Mughol rule.  JN Sarkar termed these 500 years of the  Turkish and the Mughol rule   as the 'darkest and barbarous' periods  in the whole history of India.
Such a view was strongly condemned by modern scholars like Shashi Tharoor who termed the British Empire in India for over two hundred years   as " An Era of Darkness". This he told because of the mass killing and torture that the British inflicted upon the people of India in their bid to perpetuate the British rule and also to safeguard their interest in India for years.     Shashi Tharoor, was educated at Oxford in England and was widely known in the world for his nationalistic approach. He was two time MP in Indian Parliament and a former Minister of State for Human Resource Development and also Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of India. He is the first who branded the British rule in India as an era of darkness as the British looted out the wealth of India for one hundred ninety years. They ensured divide  and rule policy between Hindu and Muslim in order to rule India undisturbed. They shattered the economy of India. In a word they plundered India and destroyed her people. During the British rule the country experienced the most severe and awesome famines that killed millions of people in India. Shashi Tharoor said, "The India that the British East India Company conquered was no primitive or barren land but the glittering jewel of the medieval world. Its accomplishment and prosperity---'the wealth ctreated by vast and varied industries' --- were succinctly described by a Yorkshire-born American Unitarian Minister, J.T. Sunderland:  " Nearly every kind of manufacture or product known to the civilzed world  ---nearly every kind of creation of man's brain  and hand, existing anywhere, and prized either for its utility or beauty --- had long been produced in India. India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or any other in Asia." Sunderland had all praise for the then India, (Tharoor, Shahshi 2016: 3), Shashi said, " The deindustrialization of India, began in the late eighteenth century, and completed in the nineteenth and only slowly reversed  in the twentieth. …… The scale and extent of British theft in India can be gauged by the impact of Indian -acquired wealth upon England itself." (Tharoor, Shashi 2016 :13)  Shashi Tharoor's book gave a harrowing tale of the British looting of India's wealth and killing of innocent people.  
In many countries in the world such as China, Japan, and Italy English is spoken in limited scale. They value their mother language over English. They also follow their own culture and tradition. We must not thus forget our struggle for freedom both from the British and also from Pakistan.
There is no wrong that the English world would celebrate their own tradition. Their poets would uphold the case of the British everywhere in their language and literature.
" What can be said in New Year rhymes
That's not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know
………………………………………
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.
Lord Tennyson thus speaks :
Ring out the old ring in the new
Ring happy bells across the snow.
Finally Tennyson sings with four poignant lines:
Old year you must not die;
You came to us so readily
You lived with us so readily
Old year you shall not die.

We in Bangladesh have poets like Rabindranath  who earned Nobel Prize for literature eulogizing Bengali culture, such as, Gitanjali ( Song Offerings), We have Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jivananda Das and Jasim Uddin who contributed much to Bengali culture and tradition. We have ' Pohela Basakh", the first day of Bengali year. We take pride in all these. Our youths must take lesson from our freedom struggle both from the British and also from  Pakistan. We need not borrow ideas from the west, Bangladesh has enough of it.
We look forward to Pahela Baisakh. Our struggle for mother tongue has been recognized by the world and so also ' Pahela Baisakh'. That would be the day of our feasting, rejoicing, greeting and praying.
Yet as we follow English calendar to keep  pace with the international world. We need to know our achievements, our success and  failures and lapses.
The year 2017was very crucial year for Bangladesh following Rohingya crisis. The heavy influx of the Rohingyas from neighboring Myanmar country, their unlawful eviction put Bangladesh to a very tight corner. Tens of millions have already crossed over to Bangladesh and many more million are following suit. Such a crisis has seriously affected our national economy.
Despite all these, the Bangladesh economy, according to information available, has undergone a major transformation over the past two decades. This change has been spearheaded by the rapid expansion of the garment industry. And this has greatly helped reduce poverty and raised the employment of women. The result has been a sustained increase in per capita income. Bangladesh is making a headway toward its goal of middle income status.. Poverty has been nearly halved since1990.. Inequality remains low and stble. Our life expectancy is also on rise. Child mortality has been greatly reduced following access to water and sanitation.  
We are now marching forward as a nation. We uphold Bangobandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who braved death for the sake of the country and the Freedom Fighters who lost their lives to the cause of our nation.                
India does not celebrate the English New Year  in India..    New Year's Day on January 1 in the Gregorian calendar is a restricted holiday in India. Individuals can take a limited number of restricted holidays but government offices and most businesses remain open and public transport remains available. Many people are known to report late to work on January 1 due to late night celebrations.
The security is tightened in prime cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore as incidents of molestation and fights have been rising the last few years. The arrival of foreign tourists is at its peak during New Year's Day on January 1, especially in locations such as Goa which is known to be a favorite tourist destination.
In Bangladesh too, the day is not celebrated officially and this year the New Year  festivity  is also restricted in view of Rohingya crisis. Millions of Rohingyas have been facing death or already had been dead. The  condition of women and children are horrifying because of rain and thunder shower and also for winter. Bagladesh government has been playing great role in giving food and succor to the Rohingyas. It is not a Public Holiday and offices are not closed on the occasion. All educational institutions, colleges and universities remain open.  
(The writer was formerly a Harvard Visiting Scholar ( 1985 HDS) and presently Pro- Vice Chancellor, Northern University Bagladesh. E mail : dranwar.karim@gmail.com)

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