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.
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?