The world has not experienced such a dreadful time as seen in 2020, except wars, in the last couple of centuries. Focused on a pandemic, almost the whole year elapsed amid fears of death and infections and an abnormal situation. The fraught spectacle prevailed all over the world throughout the year. Bangladesh was among them. Like in whole world, the country had to pass through long spells of shutdown, lockdown and slapping of scores of bans on movement. Those were necessitated by the need for ensuring that people do not contract the highly infectious disease.
Apart from the restrictive measures in the mainstream life, the other optional activities had also to bear the pandemic's brunt. We can begin with socio-cultural occasions like wedding, birthday celebrations, religious and cultural festivals. The two Eid festivals in 2020 were celebrated in Bangladesh, like elsewhere, on a limited scale. The atmosphere of the shopping bout before the Eid-ul-Fitr was unusually subdued. The Eid Day lacked the well-known festivities. The Eid-ul-Azha celebration was chiefly limited to the cattle markets and the purchase of the sacrificial animals. Like Eid-ul-Fitr, the Eid-ul-Azha festival was also devoid of the traditional celebrations. In spite of the shopping sprees and illuminations by night, people in many Christian-dominated cities on the last 25 December largely remained indoors. A lot of them went to the church. The merry rituals, especially those for children, were also held indoors amid fanfare. But, in total, the day was celebrated without the traditional fervour marking the occasion.
The whole world last midnight waited for the clock to strike 12 past 1 minute in bated breath. The time heralded the New Year of 2021. Although the country has its traditional Bangla New Year called 'Pahela Baishakh', the Gregorian calendar is followed during both informal and formal activities. In accordance with this practice, welcoming the New Year amid celebrations has long been a normal feature with the urban communities. It's the youths who normally organise the festivities in Dhaka and the other big cities. Every year, the authorities concerned announce strict guidelines for celebrating the event. Except stray incidents, the New Year's festival passes off peacefully. But this year, with the ferocity of the corona pandemic hitting new highs and leaving the world still wary, the New Year celebrations were held in a strictly restrained manner in many cities including Dhaka. Due to being a moderately affected country, Bangladesh organised the celebrations mostly indoors. The law enforcers remained watchful of situations where youths indulge in excesses in revelries, thus breaking the corona-time health guidelines.
Given the terrible nature of the pandemic, the propensity to abide by restrictive measures remained at work among the youths. This phenomenon appeared in the countries being badly ravaged by the pandemic. The pull of festivities is irresistible in certain societies. Whenever the occasion appears, people cannot be checked from participating in the festivals. It is seen among both the enlightened urbanites and indigenous communities. The spell of great festivals, no matter if they are social, traditional or newly introduced, is great. Apart from the inherently fun-loving ones, many otherwise puritan communities also break through the invisible barriers. They simply cannot be kept inside their homes during festival times. The frequencies of such spectacles are not negligible. However, according to social observers, the less such frenzied tendencies prevail the better; especially during the calamities like a global pandemic.
The world has seen many a long period of deadly pandemics. The longest such pandemic-plagued time wreaked havoc with the whole Europe for four hundred years, from 15th to19th centuries, with intermittent respites. Called Black Death, comprising the deadly bubonic plague and various types of flu, the pandemic wiped out millions of people from vast regions. Europe had never experienced such a mortal virus-borne calamity before. Except the church compounds, there were veritably no shelters to turn to. The self-made witch doctors ruled the roost in society. Instead of bringing about a cure, these fake medical practitioners hastened the death of scores of people. People took the faith healers' so-called medicines; instead of being cured they, in reality, welcomed their agonising deaths. Mankind had to wait for considerably a longer period before they were handed scientifically made and effective medicines for bubonic plague and different types of flu. In spite of these cures, lots of people in the vicinity of the European borders continued to be infected by plague and newer strains of flu. For more advanced medicines, the world had to wait for almost another century.
A remarkable fact stunned people born in the modern times. Even during the intermittent outbreaks of Black Death, the general people were not deprived of their share of fun-times. During the 400-year pandemic, they had never felt any dearth of good times. Apart from the seasonal and social festivals, lighter moments filled with pageantry, vaudevilles etc never ceased to fill people with the positive aspects of life. At this point, one may recall the film 'Seventh Seal' directed by the legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. The film's plot covers a chunk from the dreary period of Black Death.
In order to show the coexistence of life's buoyancy and the cold shadow of death, Bergman keeps provisions for light fun and buffoonery presented by an itinerant troupe. Three actors, including a young woman --- and her baby, are always in pursuit of joy. They are not fully aware that a family-friend of theirs, a skilled chess player, is engaged in a game bout with Death. The duo follows the vaudeville group wherever they go and perform. The message here is even during a dreadful pandemic, the common people want to remain filled with joy, despite death accompanying them. As director Bergman has shown us, Death is inescapable. He also attaches importance to the universal truth that man's thirst for lighter moments is insatiable.
The truth that humankind's penchant for joy is universal is accepted by a large number of thinkers. A lot of others may not subscribe to it. But the world goes by laws which at times are inscrutable to the common man. The welcoming of the New Year amid festivities in these dreary times of a global pandemic points to a vital human nature. Man cannot banish lighter moments for long. Taking the times of sorrow and loss as part of survival, humans do not fail to return to their old way of life. Even during disastrous times, man cannot remain detached from cheery moments for long. Deaths of the close ones are exceptions. Yet with the passing of time, these deep wounds, too, get healed. The seemingly unforgettable memories give way to the newly spun present.
As a universal rule, man cannot avoid being drawn for long to the mundane moments of joy during pervasive grief. Commensurate with this instance, many people have been seen joining privately arranged wedding ceremonies during the ongoing pandemic. The elderly people cannot prevent the youths from joining humble merry-making, by maintaining health guidelines. In the times of lingering pandemics, widely participated festivities outside, thus, became a part of the new normal. In spite of a panicky situation in place, people have started crawling out of their home confines. Occasional outbreak of pandemics in different regions at different times may one day become the rule of nature. This very spectacle, in a way, is set to help the pandemic-time outdoor jubilations emerge as a normal event. The New Year's night or the daylong Pahela Baishakh celebrations cannot be kept from being a part of this transformation.
If the global health watchdogs' prediction about a prolonged stay of the coronavirus and its newer strains prove plausible, celebrations are feared to become a new normal during the dreadful phases of man's existence. The only difference could be the broadening of the new reality's range. Believers in stoicism in that case might advance the idea of abstaining from all kinds of jubilations for some time. This will not mean the end of the world, they might add.