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     Volume 5 Issue 84 | March 3, 2006 |

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Coming to America

Rubaiyat Hossain

Coming to America is no mere crossing the continent or flying over the Atlantic, it means much more than that. It means stepping into an alternative universe, a world that runs parallel to ours in Bangladesh one where ideals, standards, and rules are very different from what we grew up seeing. My statement may hold true for other countries as well, in terms of lifestyle, philosophy, values etc. These tend to shift as we move in and out of boundaries, but one would also have to be reminded that since World War II, America has established itself as the new super power, and constituted a set of ideals to be solely American freedom of individual being, equality of races and genders, and finally the all-American notion of 'the hell with you I can do whatever the hell I feel like!'

As a student coming here at the ripe age of eighteen, my brain was open fields for new ideas to be let in and cultivated. I became a Women's Studies major and it suddenly changed my entire perspective; all of a sudden I could go out at three in the morning and not have to be trailed by any inhibitions or fear. It was a place where I didn't have to look at my teachers as if they were from outer space, but actually be able to look them in the eyes and put forward my own opinion. I must say before I came to the States, I certainly had a mind and brain of my own, but I didn't have any avenues to really put them to work and let them come up with a perspective of their own. In Dhaka I was living, and I was attempting to claim my life for myself, but the scopes were so limited that my only expression of individuality consisted of stealing the black wireless phone into the roof, and talking to my boyfriend on it under the guava shades.

Now that I have re-entered the country after a long eight-months stay in Dhaka, once again, I am reminded very strongly that it is next to impossible for me to remain as an individual woman here. Whereas, here in America I feel free, and as I walk on the streets and run my own life, I feel like a huge heavy cloak has been lifted off me. I feel I simply was working too hard to be a woman in Dhaka, a task I failed miserably; always had to conform to gender roles and societal norms that I never felt comfortable with. Dhaka is a place for those who prefer to go by the rules, those who are good at concealing their emotions and putting forth something other than what they feel inside. It is almost like Victorian England, where Oscar Wilde felt everything was inside out, like an inside-out sock. You will say something, but you will mean something else, you will do something nice, but you will actually do it to make your in-laws happy, living like that constantly within the currents of push and pull, or knowing and unknowing, of mixing up one's own wish with the others'. By the end of the day one forgets what one really wants and only goes with the societal flow. This is why I am neatly happy, pretending to be a fugitive like River Tam in Serenity, hiding my body in the transparencies of American air and saying to myself, let this be it, let this be it, nothing else, I just want to feel free, I never want to work so hard at being a woman, I never want to be so depressed at failing the exam of being a woman again, I never want to lose myself again!

But there is no myself, I don't belong to Dhaka or to America and in some sense I don't exist, because one needs a solid ground beneath her feet to exist as a living and contributing component of an entire social unit, and I am not like that. I am like a shooting star that has fallen off the sky following the trails of its own thoughts leaving behind countries, families, values, traditions, and many more loved ones. But I guess that is how time moves forward, it always gives a way to the new, even though there is always a dialectic between the old and the new ways of thinking that push the social current forward, looked at from a bigger perspective, it all makes sense, everything seems to be fine in the divine order, but what remains problematic is the personal life and the desires of the personal self.

The personal self wants to flee Dhaka because there is too much pressure to be a woman she simply can't handle. The personal self also desires to get married to follow a Hindi film fantasy. His self feels safe hiding in America, but the novelty of this place and the comfort of it wears out in a few days to leave open some bare naked hypocrisy about human nature. If America is to be the shrine of freedom and individual autonomy then why were Native Americans killed and continue to be marginalised in the barren lands of the mid west? Why is it that even though America is supposed to be made out of immigrants, it still is predominantly a White America in the White House? When hundreds of books about Native Americans shine in the new age bookstore, and bombs drop in Iraq and Afghanistan for not too many good reason, but masculine rage and consumer driven desire for oil, then, one has to ask the question of the broken link; the question of the Native Americans, the question of wiping out one of the most sophisticated cultures that lived completely in tune and harmony with nature. Their unique knowledge of surviving in this land made them closer to the soil of America than the later immigrants who came in. One may ask today: is it a ghost country? Is it a ghost town? Because we have killed all our hosts, those who offered us hospitality and taken over this country as guests, as outsiders, and invaders.

To answer these questions is not a conclusive process, the answers will go on and on and they will sound like the ultimate ballad of human nature, the inherent fight between good and evil, consciousness versus unconsciousness, darkness versus light. The hopeful part is that there are always people both here and in Dhaka who think differently, and think for the world, and for the nature, and for other people around us. Now I may flee with my personal pain, fear, desire, and love, but a part of my soul will always rest in peace because I know of the good and truth in people I have seen both here in America and in Dhaka that makes me believe that even though there is bad all around in the world today, there is always, and have always been enough good to be going around for keeping the earth still moving in its axis, and for the moon to still rise, and spring to still come.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2006