when are you coming to see us?", said my sister anxiously.
Why not celebrate Anahita's (my daughter) first birthday
over here in North Carolina?" I replied reluctantly
in the negative, "I have made other plans". "What
plans?", she asked. I said with more hesitation, "We
are going to Florida for a vacation. We need a break."
My sister replied with surprise, "Coming to our place
is not a break?" Detecting the disappointment in her
tone, I did not say that going to meet family has its own
charm but it is not really a vacation. I calmed her down
by saying that we would come soon. She hung up by saying
"Khub Americander moto kotha bolo ajkal"(talking
like a true American these days).
made me wonder, when did we stop being Bangladeshi and start
becoming Americans (hint: note the negative connotation
of the last word)?
we told Anahita's Bangladeshi babysitter that we were going
on vacation to Florida, her first question was, "Who
lives in Florida? Didn't you just visit your brother in
Texas?" When we said we were just going to stay in
a resort and not in any relative's house having paratha
and biryiani, she was quite shocked. Her shock
turned into disbelief when we said that this resort had
a day care centre. "You are going to keep your daughter
in day care even on vacation?" said the nanny with
a dropped jaw. It didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to figure
out what was going through her mind. I asked my wife later
to make a few guesses on the adjectives she bestowed upon
us while gossiping with her deshi neighbours -- "Cruel
Parents", "Weird" and last but not the least
when it hit me again. When did we stop being Bangladeshi
and start becoming American? Is being a little "American"
after living the major part of adult life in America that
bad? Should we still resist the good things of this culture,
where we spent most of our adult lives, with both hands?
next door Bangladeshi neighbour is a real angel who often
without reason showers us with samples of her outstanding
cooking. One day she stopped by to say hello. Funnily enough,
that was the night when we decided to take out food from
a local Mexican restaurant. She looked at my wife and almost
scolded her, "Why did you order food, you could have
asked me or at least cooked an egg curry." It didn't
really occur to her that it was a conscious choice of ordering
food from outside for a change. The concept of ordering
out food was so negatively "American" to her,
that she thought we did it out of sheer desperation. Conversation
did not progress much from there on as we just looked at
her with sad and desperate eyes hoping that maybe she would
cook for us on a regular basis from here on seeing our horrible
American state of affairs.
we eventually went to the much coveted break after two years,
in Florida, we were thanking each other profusely for deciding
to take this time off. The interesting and "American"
part of our vacation was that when we were planning our
first vacation in two years, we were looking for a place
where it would be a real vacation for all of us and where
the super working mom would not have to worry about the
one year old's next feeding and diaper change all the time.
The concept of a vacation and staying at a hotel itself
is foreign to a lot of deshi folks living here.
It is not the money which is the issue as I see them spending
thousands of dollars nonchalantly buying the latest Rani
Mukherjee saree from Jackson Heights. It was the idea of
a vacation which was unacceptable. Vacation itself was a
rarity no matter how grumpy and whiny they become. If there
is a vacation to be taken, it has to be at amuk Apa's
new house in Virginia. Never mind that amuk Apa
may be shrieking at the idea of entertaining a van full
of biryiani-expecting guests.
However, since we were the "American" step cousins,
booking a resort wasn't too unnatural for us. We took the
break from daily life and it made us both smile again like
we havent done for a long time. It made us do things that
we never thought we would try. We learned how to sail a
boat and took a boat ride. I learned to roller blade --
a childhood fantasy of mine. But more amazingly my wife
and I did something we never imagined we would do after
having our first child. We spent time with each other. We
sat by the pool and talked. I got swimming lessons from
her while I gave her lessons on flying trapeze. We caught
each other stealing a peek at our daughter at the toddler
centre while she was having a blast with her new pals. We
bonded. We bonded all over again. I am sure I will never
be able to show these pictures to my babysitters who were
just plain annoyed at us for being so non-Bangladeshi. I
am sure I would not be able to explain to them that in the
end it was all three of us who were happy.
the same bhabi, the neighbour, was elated with
joy when we invited her to come along with us to attend
the Bishsho Shahitto Kendro mela in New York where
yours truly and the wife were two of the key organisers.
With a new born it was not possible for both of us to go
together and participate. But we both really wanted to do
this. Our former baby sitter was kind enough to sit with
her all day after some pleading. So there we were, working
for Kendro, reciting Bangla poems and showing Bangla
films, while our baby was left with a baby sitter. Sounds
American? You bet. But bhabi did not really mind
that as we were doing things that were typically Bangladeshi
-- in however an American sort of way it may be. So, did
we really ever stop being Bangladeshi?
quite. My wife still wants to listen to Hemanta when we
get in the car. I religiously read the Bangladeshi newspaper
everyday on the internet. We both co founded a Bangladesh
focused human rights organisation called Drishtipat.
Bangla still flows in every vein of our bodies. But then
again we still like to take a vacation from everything for
what are we? We really don't know. Are we confused Deshis?
Not really. We know our roots and we know who we are. Maybe,
we are folks that you can't really label. We are the new
migrants from Bangladesh. We work hard and play hard like
a typical American likes to do. But at the end of the day,
we still get antsy if we don't have dal bhat two
days in a row. After living in the US all of our adult lives,
certain American thoughts and things come naturally to us.
But not everything does.
New York had a power black out in August, after a foot breaking
three hour walk in pitch black darkness, I reached the baby
sitter's house from work. My little one year old daughter
did not recognise my sweat clad self in the dark. I had
to put her inside the stroller and walk back to our home.
That was the longest 15 minute walk I ever took. In complete
darkness my daughter was terrified and started crying. So
I started singing the lullaby that I always sing to her
when I put her to sleep.
tima tim tim, tara mathe pare dim, tader khara duto shing,
tara hat tima tim timů."
Can you get any more Bangladeshi than this?