As of yet I have not embarked on any adventures over to the States and I have no intention of heading out that way in the near future either. England is a geographic trinket box filled with plenteous history, fascinating landmarks and outstanding spreads of natural beauty that for any wielder of the storytelling pen one lifetime will only see a speck of it laid in documentary language. I also love England because of the profound contribution it has made in paving delightful opportunities for my development as a person, teacher and artist. These wings of self- empowerment that I wear today, as dazzling in colour as the feathers of a peacock in its prime and whose quills are poised to vocalise the contours of my imagination, must be accredited rightfully as being the fruits of the many teachers, educational institutions, workplace experiences and, notwithstanding, the overall social and cultural milieu in which I have had the privilege to grow up in.
What many people may not know is that my esteem and admiration for England has never consigned to oblivion my concerns for, and connection to, my Motherland, Bangladesh. I used to sit next to Amma’s legs, pressing her feet whilst she would tell me tales as sweet as mangoes, her voice somehow morphing itself to a low and emphatic tone – a storyteller’s voice – and I would wish always that the world outside could forget us so that Amma could carry on reciting precious memories of the land where I was born, and in which I took my first breath. I must someday archive all those stories in a proper book and then You, too, will laugh with warm tears rolling down the side of Your face as You hear of how her grandparents were so deeply in love with each other, or the time when Amma’s ditzy granny thought a scrap piece of paper was an artwork that she then stuck on the wall of the hut only to be told by the family later at night that it was an old Pakistani note! Great-Granny was very embarrassed by the blunder but apparently it aroused Great-Grandpa to want to kiss her cheek even harder for her endearing silliness! The entire village knew that this Romeo and Juliet pair were inseparable despite the laughable antics they managed to find themselves in! They never grew up and that certainly does ring a bell, does it not? Giggle!
Amma’s own father was a respected teacher and I have had the great pleasure of meeting the man himself, and I guarantee You that one can never quite forget this figure of incredible short vertical dimensions – the hereditary 158cm successfully passed down of course – because I swear he was born with a loudspeaker in his throat! When he addresses You it feels as if he is speaking out his lungs to the world! In his presence, my spine takes a mind of its own, straightening up like a metric ruler as soon as he marches into the room. He simply happens to be a character of hilarious military potential but loaded with a heart as soft as a ripe peach! I am particularly partial to his sheepish white beard, I think it makes him terribly handsome! Oooo la laaaaa! ♥
And what to tell You of those dark days when Amma and Abba’s family barely eked out an existence, when freedom was plundered and the clouds of inexorable fear loomed over everyone and everything, no one ever knowing for sure whether the sunrise would be the last that they would see. These were the harsh and bleak days of the civil war and even now when Amma reminisces of that time of frightful darkness and of friends lost forever I could sense the heavy stone lodged in her throat. Shadows of the past scar and leave blisters on the people that were there to witness them, and it must therefore be a testament to my Amma’s powerful and natural proclivity for storytelling that is responsible for why after hearing the sufferings of my Motherland I can always feel the malice of a thick chain tied to a metal ball and wrapped around my ankles. No country in the world deserves to be incinerated through the jaws of a holocaust. Never.
Now You can understand why when my Abba received his ‘boy voucher’ to that little crumb of an island floating in the Atlantic Ocean our family were overjoyed to the skies. England was the light.
But, I never once forgot my Motherland, and as long as I am I shall never let those priceless memories handed down to me by my parents come to any harm or be at risk of eradication. For those of You who may write me off as an idealistic patriot I will also concede that countries, like personalities, are not perfect, they are pitted with stifling inconsistencies and gaping holes that need to be urgently resolved. Every country is a work in progress, some better than others, but on the whole I believe there are good people out there in every one of them who dreams for a better and bright and fair future for their Motherland.
So, where am I going with this post?
As I said earlier, I have never embarked on a trip to the States and have no immediate wish to do so. Yet, many of my well-travelled friends have shared with me the most harrowing anecdotes chronicling the sheer ignorance they have observed in the American mindset, to the extent that one begins to wonder whether they are taught at all in school of the other countries and cultural universes that exist beyond their shores! Now, I am in the habit of always giving people the benefit of the doubt and never ever do I employ banal markers like country of origin to prejudge a person’s character or integrity. That is not how I work! I have met some cheery and amiable folk from over the pond, and I also have a few friends from that part of the world – precisely reasons why I do not jump the gun and generalise an entire nation as a bandwagon of no-brainers!
Unfortunately, today my entire crew at the shop in which I work were left feeling more grossly offended than I ought to have been after the experience I had with a person whom I could only describe as a butler to that that raspberry-faced Mr Trump!
Two Americans asked for my assistance in choosing gifts. One was a fashionable young lady who I got along with very well, and the other was a mature business man who seemed like he was out of steam for ideas on what to buy his wife who, I understand, had evidently messaged him on his smarty pants phone. All went pleasantly smooth and they were happy with my suggestions. I led them to the till point and the lady thanked me effusively and with a shining smile exclaimed, “Thank you very much and I won’t forget you, I mean that! Your accent is incredibly beautiful…”
I was naturally moved by her kind words and replied, “Bless you! That is very sweet of you!”
And then, alas, descended down the rip-roaring catastrophe of one of the most ugliest case of political incorrectness and blind ignorance that I have ever been subjected to, and when he said it the words of my well-travelled friends flooded my ear canals like a tsunami of a vindication that I never wished to have received. I provide you with the exact transcript of what ensued which was achievable only by my use of initiative to jot the details down straight after the incident. I still retain an open-minded stance and am fully committed to avoid myself being enslaved by prejudicial thinking. It is not who I am. I am only sharing this with You as a portrayal of distressing evidence that reinforces my belief that the so-called civilised West has still a lot to learn.
MAN: So, where are you from? [He scrutinises my face]
ME: I have lived in Winchester all my life. [I am wrapping his goods up whilst hoping in my mind that the unseen wife will be appeased by my choices]
[There is an eerie pause and I take it as a cue to expand upon my initial answer.]
ME: I was born in Bangladesh.
[The man seems to be perplexed and I assume that perhaps he does not know of my Motherland.]
ME: It is a country adjacent to India.
MAN: East Pakistan! Pakistan, India and Bangladesh were one country. [He seems chuffed at his knowledge]
ME: Under the British Empire, yes.
MAN: Bangladesh… that’s a POOR country, right?
[I was stumped by the rude directness of his question but maintained composure.]
ME: It is a developing nation.
[It was now that I knew well and truly that he was going to express a remark of raw ignorance, one too irresistible for him to keep tucked away under his belt!]
MAN: Tell me, Bangladesh is a poor country, so why is it that YOU don’t sound like a POOR person?
I could not believe my ears!
The downright primitive simplicity of his thoughts!
The lady ashamedly averted making contact with my eyes, looking down instead at the counter. She did not want to stand before me one moment longer because she wished to release me from the attentions of this utterly backward specimen of an ignorant troglodyte! I did not say anything in response and instead smiled proudly at him as if to say that it was vital that he invest in a world map and study it diligently and if he does so he shall come to learn that our world is an assortment of smaller worlds, each one a worthy treasury filled to the skies with rich stories that deserve nothing better than to be shared… ♥♥♥
Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Winchester | UK 2016/14