of the Seventies
were only a handful of Bangladeshis in Washington Metropolitan
area in 1972-80, all first generation arrivals. They were
serving in international organisations and professions like
teaching engineering, medicine, accountancy and in the Voice
of America (VOA), totaling about forty or so and their families.
Bangladesh Embassy officials and staff are not counted here,
though they were very much part of the social scene. It was
a small community of people, who, in the euphoria of the post-independence
period, were trying to find their identity both home and abroad.
Association was soon formed for cultural activities and commemorating
the Ekushey February, Independence and Victory days. There
was only one such association in the early days. It took ten
years or more to duplicate and in some cities, triplicate
the same. There were regular "dal-bhat' invitations in
private homes; some sort of an excuse for a weekly gathering
was the norm. If not, people, as they were young themselves
with small children, would venture out of Washington for picnic
or otherwise. It did not seem so tiring those days. There
were plenty of personal energy and the energy used in cars
e.g. gasoline cost only about thirty cents or less per gallon.
Often the gas stations would give gifts of tumblers or the
like as an incentive to buy more than eight gallons at one
the early Bangladeshis in Washington were educated professionals,
many of whom knew each other from the college or university
days, through service careers or through the network of family
relationships. It was like an extended family and people would
usually share each other's joys and sorrows. Discussions would
centre on news of Bangladesh, then mostly a series of political
and economic misfortunes. It seemed the country was rudderless
and groping for a viable form of governance. This affected
the morale of the community in Washington. A stream of important
persons coming from Dhaka would give accounts of the difficulties
back home and share the frustration of the Diaspora.
in Washington did not have deep divisions amongst them at
that time. Divisiveness was a phenomenon of the late eighties
and nineties. While people abroad were critical of events
back home, they all wished the country well. Most Bangladeshis
tried to explain away the country's difficulties as teething
troubles of a young and inexperienced nation. They believed
that time and practice of democracy would solve many problems.
In front of people from other countries, no Bangladeshi would
speak ill of the government or their country, out of patriotism
or good judgment. In fact, they would make voluntary efforts
to show the best face of the nation and make it known to those
who never heard about it or its geographical location. For
example, in our local elementary school on the international
day in June 1972, we put up a stall with the Bangladesh flag
and displayed pictures, paintings and a few cottage industry
products. On another occasions, various embassies in Washington
put up a fashion show from various countries. Bangladeshi
women took part with a stall for typical Bangali food and
displayed Jamdani and other sarees. Regrettably, two and a
half decades later, the situation is different. The 'probashis'
are as divided as the nation back home, lacking in political
cohesion and idealism.
of us lived in Bethesda, one of the suburbs of Washington.
Those working in the World Bank would carpool, four of us
going to office together. The discussion during the forty-five
minute ride each way was wide-ranging. It was a kind of Bangali
"Adda on Wheels". Sometimes a guest/visitor from
Bangladesh coming to Washington DC would ride with us, bringing
variety and insight to the group. Our children, then school
going, went to public schools in the Montgomery County, which
were free. Both for them and us, there were tennis, basketball
and other game facilities near our homes in the schools and
County parks. The children have now grown up and have their
own families and homes but they still maintain their childhood
and nearby areas, we led an almost idyllic life. While the
men were gone for the day to work and the children safely
in the schools, spouses would have a merry time having tea,
shopping and often lunch. Being fortunate, many had the benefit
of domestic help brought over from Bangladesh and were not
as hard pressed with their household responsibilities. Many
evenings, people would visit each other, play cards or table
tennis and spend time together. During weekends and holidays,
packing children and food in cars, three/four couples would
arrange to go for day trips or overnight stays for sightseeing.
They would go to the Shenandoah Valley, ancient Luray Caverns,
Ocean City beaches, Dupont Gardens near Philadelphia, historic
Gettysburg and the like. The next day, there would often be
a follow-up session recounting the stories and jokes of yesterday
and of yester years.
On a typical
snowy day, when we were snowbound at home, with offices closed
and roads impassable by car, men and women would put on their
high snow boots and walk to each other's houses. They would
end up in one house with a warm fireplace crackling with wood-fire.
The hostess would then get busy serving hot muri
or piyaju, chira bhaja and dal puri and
drinks of all kinds. With schools closed, children would go
sliding on the snow in the yard or make snowman. They would
also have a great time indoors with their board games or TV
shows. In most social gathering of the Bangladeshis, there
would be recitations and singing. Bangalis were argumentative
and too political, but they were also artistically inclined.
It was difficult to imagine a group of Bangalis where a few
did not have the gift of music and other talents.
arrivals in Washington from a small newly independent country,
we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to show the
Bangladesh flag and make the country known, establish ourselves
and raise our children in a green and friendly environment.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005