Today, April 14, 2017 is Poila Baisakh, or Bengali New Year. To celebrate, notable author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni shares her story of how she has celebrated this festival over the years. Check out our roundup of engaging children's books to showcase a glimpse of Bengal, for all kids, young and old! Lastly, we're also teaming up with Literary Safari for a giveaway - Win two autographed copies of Chitra's book, Grandma and the Great Gourd, along with an award-winning app for the book.
Guest post by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Poila Baishakh, or Bengali New Year's Day, was always a special festival in my childhood. On this holiday, connected to the spring harvest festival, we would travel to my grandfather's home in the countryside of Bengal.
My grandfather lived in a remote village named Gurap about three hours by train from Kolkata. At that time, the village did not have electricity or running water. We had to light kerosene lamps in the night and fetch water from a tube well in buckets. I thought it was a great adventure, and I imagined the village in Grandma and the Great Gourd to be very much like my grandfather's village.
My grandfather was an avid gardener – just like Grandma in my book – and I remember helping him pick many vegetables, including gourds, from his vines. On Poila Baishakh, we would wear new clothes, do a prayer ritual with lamps, flowers, chanting, and a delicious food offering of payesh (a rice pudding made from jaggery, new harvest rice and fresh milk from my uncle's cow).
Afterwards, there was a feast, and then the neighborhood children would come over to play with us until the sun went down over the woods that bordered my grandfather's yard, and where sometimes in the evening I would spot a fox. When writing this piece, I realized that I'd used the woods and the fox, too, for Grandma and the Great Gourd. I guess our lives and memories get interwoven into our writing almost subconsciously!
I have many happy memories of this festival. Now that I live in the United States, I try to re-create some of the rituals and that special feeling for my sons. It's extremely important, I believe, for our children to connect to their cultural roots--and that, too, is one of the reasons I write books like Grandma and the Great Gourd.
Here are some more books to give you a glimpse of Bengal!
Tiger Boy - A 2016 South Asia Book Award winner,this book is set in the Sunderbans of West Bengal and is a fast paced, gripping tale of a young boys love for his home and an adventure with a tiger cub!
The Patua Pinnochio: An Italian classic re-imagined with art from the Patua scroll tradition of West Bengal, India is sure to keep kids and parents enthralled! See our other art books here.
Ghost Catcher’s Tale - A story from Bengali folk tradition of a clever barber and how he outwits spirits haunting him.
Grandma and the Great Gourd - Another classic Bengali folk tale retold in rhyme with bright and bold illustrations featuring a witty Grandma and some hungry jungle animals!
Tales from Bengal - Growing up everyone had heard some version of Tuntuni Boi's adventures. This beautifully illustrated translation of Upendrakishore RayChoudhury’s stories helps you pass on the stories to another generation.
Wheels on the Bus (English/Bengali) - A classic nursery rhyme with an oddball passengers - a clown, a brass band, an acrobat and a magician, now in a bilingual English- Bengali version! Check out our other Bengali bilingual books here.
Gitanjali - This collection of Rabindra Nath Tagore's poems earned him the Nobel Prize in literature. His poignant poems describes the breath of life's experiences that are relevant even today. Take a peek at our other curated Adult Reads.
Win an autographed copy of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's picture book and its award-winning companion interactive game app Grandma's Great Gourd. To enter: