Tuesday, 17 May, 2022

With the Wind

Immigrant Chapters

Tulip Chowdhury

Immigrant Chapters
Tulip Chowdhury

When it comes to relocating to a new land, facts and fantasies accompany people's migration. The adopted country, with its unique culture and values, holds discoveries. There maybe be culture shocks, and depending on the skin tone, the race history gets written in new chapters. For some people, the foreignness of a strange country creates pleasant ripples, and for others, it's sailing over a rough sea. In the process of relocating, it's a privilege to be an observer without judgment. We benefit pros and cons of knowing the unknown world when we are open to accepting the changes. In that respect, there are few dull moments in integrating a new society.

As Shawkat, a banker in New York, says, "A person becomes "Senior Bhai" or "Junior Bhai" in terms of the time frame of arrival. I thought of age with the term of senior and junior, and this is new to me." A piece of conversation could go like this, "Ejaz Bhai is senior in coming to the USA, and Islam is junior. But I am the senior-most though and have lived here the longest." There is a ranking in the immediate community members, and life fits into the migration puzzles with its sad and happy pieces. The early comers will shower the new arrivals with advice. For fish menus, it is a delight to know you can buy frown 'ilish-machh' (hilsha fish) somewhere nearby. A chance to be in New York for the cool Bangladeshi could not happen without a trip to Jackson Heights, a mini BD itself.

Bangladeshis are "sweet-toothed" people, and so there will be advice on NY trips and where to find the deshi sweets or the best of "fuchka and chotpoti". A favourite BD food restaurant is Shagor for its menu of lobsters, "rupchanda," beef and chicken curries, and other savoury dishes. They have an on-line business that delivers cooked food to different USA states. And the packing is excellent with food as tasty as freshly cooked ones. 

The Bengali people are "bhojon bilashi" and generous with hospitality. They love good food and could go miles to cook Bangali dishes from scratches with substitute ingredients when living in a foreign country. For newcomers, the rice crispy cereal (usually a breakfast item for the American home)  is prepared with onions, chili, and mustard oil, much like "chira" (pounded rice), and served with steaming cha for the afternoon snack. For the supplies of basic spices and other ingredients needed for the Bangladeshi dishes, the Indian grocery shops are good.

As Sruti from Massachusetts says, "It was a pleasant surprise to discover tamarind, date sugar and dried red-plum (Our boroi) and come up with mouth-watering "boroi-tetul achar."

There is uniqueness in different cultures across the world. For the Bangladeshi women, the sari is an essential part of her identity in the diverse communities in the USA. Community-based socialization is the place to wear the saris or the salwar kameez. For the men, it could be the punjabi or the kurtis. Some people wonder why the lungi never became a part of our traditional dress at home and abroad. One would think that the suit, tie, and dress shirts are legacies left by our British colonial days. However, among the immigrant society of the Bangladeshi around the USA, there is much enthusiasm for traditional clothing and cultural events that highlight historical landmarks.

For Bangladeshis, visiting home could mean gearing up for the year with appropriate clothes for Pahela Boishakh, 16th December, or the International Mother's Language Day. Children swap clothes from thousands of miles among the Bangladeshi community members of big cities. The children outgrow clothes quickly, and it is an excellent way to use the clothes in a beautiful neighbourly- share.

Wait, though, if you live in a cold state, saris with boots are not easy to pull off in winter gatherings. If you ask for advice on what clothes to bring from BD, the friends could suggest nice sets of salwar kameez or other long skirts and dresses worn at parties these days in Bangladesh. The fashion changes abroad with the BD community and the land left behind.

Going back to the kitchen, the Bengali homes, one could find the "dal-ghutni" which is like a wooden hand- blender. Usually it is used blend the lentil while cooking "dal".

One can find a similar kitchen utensil like an egg beater that could the blending job. However, there is something about the "dal ghutni" that is so comforting in the Bengali kitchen that one cannot resist. 

To make dishes like "shutki -bhorta" the stone "pata-puta" is the best way of grinding the ingredients to a perfect consistency. It is no surprise to find a mother coming to the USA packing a small size "pata-puta" that could be around twenty pounds of weight. I am not making it up. I brought one when the weight limit was more than international air travel. And it was to feed chicken kabab to my son who loved them and could not other meat. It is way beyond words to speak of how a mother finds ways to love a child.

Let's go to the grandparents and what we want to feed our grandchildren living abroad? The olive and the mango pickles, the dry-fish and "hatkora", and the seasonal jackfruit and guavas are placed deep in the folds of the clothes so as not to attract attention. There is the story of one grandmother who had to take the mangoes out when the scanning machine did its job; she sat down with the mangoes and started eating them at Logan airport in Boston. She ate the mangoes, as many as she could, and said, "Well, they said I have to throw them out; I didn't bring them for my grandkids to trash them."

There are endless ways in which we try to recapture known lifestyles in new places. The human soul finds a home in the familiar times, and places lived. And it is not Bangladeshis alone who are caught in an invisible tug of war in leaving the land and adopting another new one. As my Italian-American friend Laura says, "I have to have some pizza or pasta at least once a week and meet my family over the dinner table. We Italians are big family people."

Overall, living in any place on Earth is, live as if this is your last day: enjoy and accept the sunshine and the darkness of nights.


Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA