NADIA KABIR BARB
I was on the phone to a representative of a health insurance company the other day and mentioned that I was interested in finding out about their travel insurance policies for people travelling from Bangladesh. I was slightly taken aback when she kept referring to Bangladesh as India or part of India. By the end of the conversation I politely informed her that actually we were not really part of India anymore, in fact had not been since 1947 and had fought a war of Independence in 1971 and had ceased being called East Pakistan as well. She apologised profusely and it was on the tip of my tongue to suggest that they should give me a discounted rate in exchange for my mini history lesson! This actually made me aware of the fact that many people have no idea that Bangladesh is a country in its own right and even that it exists, so it was almost a bizarre coincidence that a couple of days after my phone call, my two daughters were having a week long event in their school called "One World Week". This was, on the one hand to raise money for Save the Children fund and also raise awareness of the multi cultural society that we live in.
One of the activities to raise money for the charity was by selling tickets to a fashion show organised by the school (the 'A' Level students to be precise) where the girls paraded on the catwalk in outfits from different parts of the world. We had girls in kimonos, Japanese street fashion, Chinese traditional dresses, saris, even my eldest daughter having reluctantly agreed to participate in the fashion show was in a shalwar kameez. There was also a group of girls dressed up as New York "Gangsta Rappers"!! The atmosphere in the audience was indulgent and each costume was greeted with cheering and hearty applause. This was followed by a food fair where the parents were asked to contribute by bringing in food from their respective countries. I offered to take some items in, and in true Bangladeshi fashion completely over catered. The concept of "bringing one dish" obviously escaped me and I could indeed have fed a small army with the paratha and korma that I took in! Being one of the few Bangladeshis in the school, I felt that I would let my country down if the sub continental table had a few measly items on it. Hence the surplus food.
Strangely enough, by some twist of fate my younger daughter's class teacher asked me if I would give the girls a little presentation or talk on Bangladesh. I felt like this was divine intervention where I was getting the opportunity to try and make 16 little girls aware of a small country in Asia called Bangladesh (and if they ever grew up to be health insurance representatives they would not make the mistake of thinking it was in India…). Now having a six year old myself, I was very aware of the fact that children at that age have the attention span of a fish (i.e. not very long). Therefore, I decided to take what I refer to as my bag of tricks with me. As I walked into the classroom, I was greeted by sixteen pairs of eager eyes and felt slightly intimidated by their enthusiasm. It seemed most logical to start off by showing the girls where exactly Bangladesh was and I had with me a jute map. I pointed out the capital and my birth place Dhaka, showed them where Cox's Bazar was and mentioned that was the longest beach in the world, a fact that not many people seem to know. I handed out labels with their names written in Bangla and immediately caused a riot as all the children rushed up to me to find out which way up their names were supposed to be. This of course ended up in a conversation about how unlike English we do not write on the line but below it. They seemed intrigued by this and told me that they thought the script was "very pretty" something that we probably take for granted when writing Bangla. I showed them the book "Rain & River" by K M Ameer with spectacular pictures of Bangladesh in it and they were genuinely fascinated. The rickshaws, the paddy fields, the fishing boats and even the picture of the flooded street in the monsoon instigated a barrage of questions. Once I had managed to get through the interrogation session, I took out my ace card --- a sari. Yes, I actually stood in front of the class and proceeded to show them how we wear it. Albeit that I put the petticoat on top of my jeans and looked less glamorous than I hoped but it did have the girls sitting in rapt admiration. But when I said that I had a sari for children and I could demonstrate it on one of them, I was amazed by the number of volunteers and felt utterly guilt ridden when I saw all the other crest fallen faces because I had not picked them. Initially I had been concerned as to how I would keep them occupied for an hour but it was surprising how quickly time had passed and before I knew it I was packing my bags. Just before I left I passed around a jar of "sweet nimki" as I thought I should give them a taste of Bangladesh as well. This really went down well with the kids! Even the teachers were eating them with as much relish as the children.
It was only the next day when I received 16 hand written "Thank You" cards with pictures drawn by them of Bangladesh, did I realise that maybe I had put Bangladesh mentally on the map for a handful of people after all. Some of the messages inside made me smile, others made me laugh out loud but all of them touched me. To these children Bangladesh now had not only a geographical presence but also a face…
(R) thedailystar.net 2005