My Memories of Beautiful Bangladesh

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My family originate from Bangladesh, a small and densely populated country in South Asia. I was born there 36 years ago in a city called Sylhet which is one of the richest cities in the country. Bangladesh is a beautiful, fertile country that floods every year because it is very close to sea level. The flooding leaves the land rich in minerals and nutrients giving rise to lush vegetation and beautiful rivers which crisscross the land.

My father arrived in the UK in the 60s to work in the cotton mills of Oldham. Oldham was famous for its cotton industry and attracted a lot of workers from South Asia. It was a hard time for immigrants who worked 12 hour shifts and faced racism. Far right groups such as the National Front terrorised my father’s generation and would target anyone dressed differently or with a beard. Halal meat wasn’t available at the time and there weren’t any mosques.

My father has always been a determined character not easily intimidated and very strong willed. So he faced all the difficulties and eventually the rest of the family joined him in the UK in the mid 80s. I was one year old at the time.

Bangladesh and Pakistan were formerly part of India under British rule which ended in 1947 when India was split into three. East and West Pakistan were two wings separated by thousands of miles and modern day India.

The two wings fought a bloody civil war and in 1972 East Pakistan became Bangladesh. East Pakistan had been treated as a colony of West Pakistan rather than as an equal partner which caused resentment and eventually lead to open rebellion.

Bangladesh is gradually developing and the garment industry is growing.

Bangladeshi people are renowned for their hospitality and generosity, it’s not uncommon to have six or seven dishes prepared for a guest.  They give in charity abundantly, help the poor and are humble and religious.

“The sheer number of beggars at bazaars was a shock to me, especially the number of amputees who beg day and night to make enough money to eat.”

Apart from being born there, I have only been to Bangladesh once. I have many happy memories from my stay. I saw my maternal grandmother for the first time, she was tiny and humble. My cousins were surprised when we spoke English in a northern accent, they found it to be funny.

It was amazing to experience the annual floods as I had never seen anything like it. The water was up to my chest in some places. We had so much fun fishing and swimming and it was an eye-opening experience how people adjust to life in the Monsoon season. 

A traditional “Nowka” in Bangladesh

The sheer number of beggars at bazaars was a shock to me, especially the number of amputees who beg day and night to make enough money to eat. It was a reality slap to see people living in such severe poverty.  The privation I witnessed has stayed with me even to this day so I empathise with the poor and the destitute. 

In a world where enough food is produced to feed every person, nearly a billion people still go to bed at night hungry, this is unacceptable, how can we overeat and waste food when so many people are starving?

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Muhammad

    I am really sorry to hear how your father and his generation were treated. It has not gone away even though we have the Equality Act 2010 and other race relation legislation to make racist words and behaviour illegal. This sort of treatment sadly prevails. It is institutionalised. Until the judiciary and police are more diverse, and until education improves to promote tolerance and understanding and racial and social mobility, it is hard to change things but we have to keep trying and should never stop trying.

    I think that your dad was incredibly brave moving across the world and learning a new language and discovering a new culture. I moved abroad for one year and that was tough! His generation worked incredibly hard to build a different life for you. They also contributed to society and should never be scapegoats.

    I am sorry that some humans are frightened by a different type of butcher or a place of worship and act with hatred as a result. I think we have to keep working across communities and faiths to reach out to encourage friendships and understanding. The challenge is that whilst it is natural to live within a familiar community, that we still reach out and discover different languages and ways of life. And talk to our neighbours.

    I have never been to Bangladesh, India or Pakistan but I would love to visit one day. It is great that you went to where you were born and yet it was noticed even there your Oldham accent! But hopefully in a kind and positive way!

    Thank you for writing. Keep posting!

    Kind regards
    Robyn

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  2. Sutobhai, I never really talked to you about Bangladesh much…
    I’ve been to Bangladesh thrice. Each time was different. It helped me learn things about myself and the world. I discovered that our cousins there remembered me more than I remembered them. Because they didn’t have the advanced technology we have, so they used to do what they could to keep occupied; talk and gossip. Due to the extreme poverty there, people could be very manipulative and deceiving. Especially to fresh faces like us in the UK.
    However, they have shown me love that I have never seen in my years here! We have cousins and friends there that seem almost endless, compared to the cousins we have here.
    The easy life we have here has made us very stupid and vegetative, due to the technology – travel and fun, basically…
    Socially these two places are almost in a complete contrast to each other. Their conversations are very entertaining to hear, even though my Bangla wasn’t very good, only being there three times, I did try to fit in… socializing is a very precious aspect to their lives I have discovered, that they cant really live without it, (I wonder how covid19 is affecting them?…).
    Everything there is very cheap, as the currency rate is very low compared to here. £1 would give you like 120 taka…with 5 taka you can buy a small cold bottle of any refreshing UK branded drink (coke, 7up, pepsi etc). here it would usually cost £1… now you can imagine how poor these people are! Everything they once had has been stolen, with countries from all sides stealing the treasure they had, because they had weapons… at the time when it began, India was all Hindu; a religion that despises conflict of any kind (so, they lost everything…).
    When I was 13, we went there on holiday, we stayed there for approximately 9 months, with my 4 younger siblings. Dad just didn’t want to come back! I missed all of year nine, where I was in to sets on nearly all subjects, only to return and be put in all the lower sets. I decided to come back, desperately so, as I missed the home, I was born in. in Bangladesh, I learned a protective mentality towards my brothers and sister. As the place was becoming dangerous for us, in more ways than one… and I was the eldest there.

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  3. When I first went Bangladesh with u when I was nine, I saw myself better than them but, after a few week I began to respect their love and culture. I really enjoyed it there especially going to the roof on the monsoon rain, kicking at the flooded roof. I began to value nature there, as they weren that advanced technologically, but advanced religiously and traditionally.

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  4. Salaam Muhammad, I enjoyed reading this Mashah’Allah. You are inspirational to many, keep up with your good work and faith.

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  5. Hi Muhammad, a great read, would like to hear what it was like coming to Oldham in the 80’s too
    Keep up the blog please :0)

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  6. Another excellent read. I can relate to the fact that I’ve also only ever visited Bangladesh once. I admire your love for humanity. Keep these coming bro

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  7. So nice to read about Bangladesh. Very lucky to have been both there.
    Love love love the pictures too
    Can’t wait for the next post.

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