Nadia Kabir Barb
Last week I was asked what it is about Bangladesh that appeals to me. The obvious reasons are of course that I have my mother, relatives and friends here. I get to spend time with them, get to take time out from my frenetic life in London and relax for a few weeks. But for some reason the afore mentioned question kept popping up in my mind at the most inopportune of moments and I kept asking myself what else it is about this country that keeps me coming back time and time again. I mean if you think about it we have the dubious honour of being the most corrupt nation in the world (in 2005 we shared the position with Chad). According to the World Bank, “Bangladesh's poverty rate remains high. With nearly half of its 138 million people living below the poverty line, Bangladesh still has the highest incidence of poverty in South Asia and the third highest number of poor people living in a single country after India and China.” Then of course our political state of affairs is anything but stable. We seem to be incapable of understanding the meaning of time, or be able to follow basic rules and regulations. The list of grievances just goes on.
Yet many people like me who are “non-resident Bangladeshis” still have a deep seated love of this very imperfect country --- a view which might be incomprehensible to outside observers. The final verdict that I came to was very simple. It is because we feel a sense of belonging. I belong here, I fit in. I don't stand out in a crowd because I am part of that crowd. I understand the culture, the customs, and the little nuances that exist on a day to day basis. I sometimes think Shakespeare was in some prophetic way referring to Bangladeshis when he came up with his famous line “There's method in his Madness”! Despite all our faults and foibles, we still seem to function as a country. How we manage this feat is still a mystery to me. Our frequent visits either bring about exclamations of how some things are just as they were years ago or how much they have changed since we left. We may find some things exasperating others downright shocking and some just plain amusing. People using the walls and drains as public toilets would have to be one of the instances where all three reactions might be in order.
Coming back every year gives me the feeling of having stepped into a little cocoon of familiarity. They say familiarity breeds contempt but it also generates affection; there really is no place like home. This is where my past is. I have memories of going to school with my mother and father, staying awake till the sun came up chatting with my cousins, running out into the garden and playing in the rain and getting soaked to the bone. Even the scar on my chin is a reminder of my childhood waywardness. Home is where you learn the basic rules of life as a child and it forms the foundation of who you become in later life.
Leaving one's homeland and settling somewhere else is not always easy especially if it has not been possible to adjust to one's new country of residence. Despite having lived in the UK for the vast majority of my life, it took me a long time to accept it as my new home. There were constant comparisons between Bangladesh and England with Bangladesh being held up as the epitome of all things wonderful (homesickness can sometimes make even the sanest of people delusional). However, marriage and children made me look at things from a completely different viewpoint. I had a new home where I was creating new memories. You suddenly realise you actually have a new family, new friends and a new life altogether.
The drab and dull weather that seems to be part of life in London ceases to be a matter of constant irritation and turns into a topic of conversation - pleasantries exchanged with acquaintances or fellow passengers. You get used to the fact that people don't seem to make eye contact with you and soon it is almost reassuring. The idiosyncrasies of your adopted home start to become rather endearing! The fast pace of life which initially seems to be overwhelming and unbearable becomes part of day to day living. Gradually you start to appreciate certain aspects of your life however insignificant they may appear to be, things that you previously may have taken for granted. For example, I love the fact that despite being a woman, I can go for a walk on my own or get on a bus and go to the shops and probably not get a second glance. Something I never seem to do in Dhaka. We have the luxury of having access to the National Health Service where we can be seen by a doctor day or night and are certain of hospital treatment just by the fact that we are British citizens. The practicalities of life are sometimes greater than we ever anticipate.
As a British Bangladeshi, I think I have the best of both worlds. I have come to appreciate the life I have in London and still have the comfort of knowing that whenever I want to I can come back to my home in Bangladesh.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006