No, despite what the title may suggest, this won’t be a 1000 word rant about how I’m continuously mistaken for being Indian by some of my so-called friends. I mean, it could be, considering there are people I’ve known for almost 2 years that still insist I’m Indian and that I just haven’t realised it yet. Plonkers.
Rather, this is a more reflective post about my first experience of my actual motherland: Bangladesh (no, it’s not in India). I say first experience because, despite going once when I was around 2 years old, I pretty much remember absolutely zilch. It’s not that surprising, since I was too busy eating dirt and poking sharp, metallic objects into dodgy power sockets.
Moving on. Let’s skip the really cool part where the plane took off – it was bloody brilliant – and touch on what struck me the instance I walked out of the airport: the traffic system, or the lack of one. Imagine waking up on the minibus that’s taking you from the capital city to your own, filled with your family and luggage, after having a quick nap and seeing two huge trucks racing at you on both sides of the highway, leaving no room for you to pass. As you’d expect, I instantly burst into a panic, only for the truck on our side of the road to cut off the other one at the very last possible moment, narrowly avoiding us. How did my mum, as well as the cousins of mine who came to pick us up from the airport, react to my state of panic?
Apparently, the traffic system in Bangladesh was designed by a team of toddlers, blindfolded and armed with crayons (you know, for the bants), and they were all aware of this. The only thing you need to know how to do is honk your horn, just so that you can warn other drivers that you’re about to do something stupid – something that would probably get you 6 points on your license here.
If you spare a second or two to glance away from the chaos on the streets, what’ll probably hit you next is the colossal levels of trademark infringement. You’ll most likely see a “Tescoo”, which will have the same store design and logo as the legitimate franchise, but apparently adding that extra ‘o’ makes it all ok. Oh, and “Blue Inc” seem to sell sarees now. Who knew?
However, I think what got my attention the most was the levels of homelessness. There were beggars on every street, footpath and corner. Despite how much your family would object to it, you couldn’t help but to give them something, whilst the domestic citizens would glance past them without a care, as if they had just become a uniform feature of the landscape.
On a lighter note, I think now would be a good time to explain the distinction between your “Bari” and your “Basha”. The latter refers to the house/flat in the city that you rent out for the purposes of attending school/college/university or going to work in the big city.
Your Bari, on the other hand – ah, where do I start? Your Bari is your land that your ancestors have built from ground up. Once upon a time, mine was a desolate strip of dirt with only a tin shack-like structure that housed my grandparents, father and his siblings. After years of hard work and investment, they’ve now transformed that tin shack into a row of beautiful houses, complete with a personal lake for fishing, a badminton court and separate houses for the workers (yeah, that took me a while to get used to).
So, you can imagine the flood of emotion I experienced when I first walked onto the soil that generations of my family had poured their blood, sweat and tears into. I felt a magnetic sense of belonging. This land was owned by my family and no one else; this was not the Queen’s land (as is the case in England), nor was it the property of the government. The very ground I walked on was mine, my father’s and my family’s, and no one could take that away from us. It represented generations of struggle, but it was also a beacon of hope – a sign of what drive and determination can really achieve.
Unfortunately, I was only able to spend a few days in my Bari. I was confined to the Basha for the majority of my stay, partly because of my cousin’s wedding – the main purpose of our trip – and partly because I managed to get food poisoning and had to lay in bed for several days with a drip attached to my arm. Yeah, it was pretty bad. If you ever visit Bangladesh, just be sure to avoid the street food; you can trust me on this one. Oh, and don’t forget the constant political strikes, where petrol bombs are thrown and people are robbed. Those are kind of dangerous too.
Up to this point, I know it seems like all I’ve done is talk about the bad aspects of my stay, but I have to say: I loved every minute of it. Despite the gangbanging mosquitos or the insane levels of filth, I really couldn’t get over how loving and accepting everyone was or how, despite the heavy forces of commercialisation, this little country had managed to protect its precious traditions and its collectivist culture which still maintained the concepts of bloodlines and heritage.
But do you want to know what my favourite thing was? Well, whilst I was in the Bari, I used to chase a chicken called Tim, who would always evade my clutches. Then one day, Tim ended up on my plate in the form of a curry. Who got the last laugh, ey Tim?