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Jamaica draws Bangladeshis to New Year fete

Dozens of dancers took part in the celebration. Photo courtesy A.F. Mesbahuz Zaman
TimesLedger Newspapers

By April, many New Yorkers have long given up on their New Year’s resolutions, but thousands who trace their roots to Bangladesh flocked to Jamaica Sunday to check off another 12 months based on a different calendar.

April 14 is the Bangladeshi New Year, and Queens is the epicenter of the celebration for anyone living in the five boroughs and beyond, according to organizer Mohammad Islam Delwar.

“Families come from all over the tri-state area,” said Delwar, whose Jamaica Bangladesh Friends Society has organized an event to mark the new year for the last 10 years.

This year women dressed in colorful saris and men in panjabis marched down the side of Hillside Avenue before ending up at Mary Louis Academy, at 176-21 Wexford Terrace, for an afternoon of food and performance.

According to the Bengali calendar, it is the year 1419, although the country itself was only created in the 1960s after the contentious partition of India.

But Delwar said borders have never been the defining factor for Bengali culture.

“We celebrate the Bengali New Year in other countries as well,” he said, citing large portions of India and communities across the globe that ring in the holiday. “This is not only for the people who live in Bangladesh.”

Jamaica is home to a large Bengali community, according to Delwar.

But the event is also designed to teach youngsters, many of whom were born in the United States, the customs and heritage of their homeland.

“We need to teach the new generation,” Delwar said. “That is what this is all about.”

They had plenty to study.

The society gave out free portions of a Bengali national dish called Hilsha Fish to about 1,000 people early in the afternoon. Then nearby restaurants took over and sold Bengali specialities, including mashed potatoes mixed with spices called aloo bhorta, a mashed eggplant dish called beguin bhorta and lentil soup with chilies and spices later on.

Inside one portion of the academy, men and women were selling traditional jewelry and clothing, some straight from the South Asian country itself.

Raihana Bari travels to Bangladesh each year to pick up handmade and traditional saris to sell at the New Year’s celebration, according to her sister.

Many of the women wore a standard outfit for the new year: a white sari with a red hem along the bottom matched with a red top, but Bari was selling a wide variety of colors.

In other places in Queens, arguing over a price tag might seem unthinkable, but bargaining was the norm Sunday, said Monowara Begun.

“You say something is $60, and they might say $30,” she said of the customers who showed restrained interest in her sister’s wares.

Later in the evening, after many of the revelers had eaten, groups performed dance and musical numbers in the auditorium, according to Delwar.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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