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Tarmac and fizzy drinks

July 15, 2019
Bamboo being transported on a warn out road…in need of tarmac

It seems a far cry from the idyllic childhood that I had in my village in the 1970’s. The last few years have seen tarmac laid with local transportation become part of this rural landscape. The last six months have finally seen ‘carrant’ as the locals describe electricity, arrive in my village.  Over the years I have been the laughing stock of my fellow British Bangladeshi friends that live in different regions that have had electricity and tarmacked roads for years.

In reflection, was my childhood really idyllic? My first memories are of when I was six and left the village for England.  I recall a very painful memory…my circumcision, waiting in dreaded anticipation for my older brother to have his done, before it was my turn.  My departure to the UK was slightly unusual as my father has two wives and I happen to be the eldest from his second wife.  He wanted to take me to the UK so that at least one of his sons from his second wife would have a ‘Londoni’ son.

I lived in Birmingham for the next three years with my half brothers and sisters.  I was a naughty child and was often scorned by my stepmother. I don’t be begrudge her, it would have been really difficult raising a child from your competition.  At the age of nine, my father decided to take me back to Bangladesh.

It must’ve been after the monsoon season when I arrived, as I recall my father hiring a boat from Sylhet to take us all the way to our Bari (family home).  As the boat moored outside my Bari, I jumped off with excitement and ran towards our house.  As I approached the house, I saw a women run towards me and I ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction to my dad and said, ‘dad a women is chasing me’, my dad replied “that’s your mum”. The three years apart, I had buried what my mother looked like deep. To this day, I cannot place my mother’s face in any of my childhood memories. Only now as a father, I can start to comprehend what it must have been like to give up your six year old child for someone else to raise.  My mother often talks about her sadness of letting me go and how much she cried.  Mum would often say, ‘your father stole you from me like a tiger takes a child’. She stopped eating certain foods that I liked, as it brought back too many painful memories.

It was a matter of a few days before I acquainted myself with my mother and my younger siblings. I recall the first few days running around with my many cousins in sandals, trying to keep up with them. I soon shed my sandals and ran barefoot with them.  I can still recall the first time walking without my sandals, feelings of the squishy mud between my toes seem so moist and unusual to start with. I spent the next year running around the village like a traditional Bangladeshi boy. 

Village live at the time was very basic.  We had no running water or electricity. We still have no running water, but we have a tube well in our Bari.  The nights where lit up with hurricanes and lems (lanterns).  Drinking water was collected from the local Hospital as that was the only tube-well for miles. We were lucky to have the adjoining Bari next to the hospital, which meant we did not have far to walk.  Many villagers resorted to drinking pond and river water.  Deaths from cholera in the 70s was common, I lost three cousins in one night.  The sanitation was open sewers, there was two bamboo sticks over a small pond with some lose coverings to provide a screen.  You would sit on your haunches and relieve yourself…the smell was sickening and it took some getting used too.  As a child it was easy to become accustomed to anything I guess.  Those were some of the unpleasant things.

On the more pleasant side, there was an adventure to have every day. There were many trees to climb and feast on mangoes, boroi, guava and others.  Different fruits came into season throughout the year, so there was something always to look forward to. 

One of my favourite activities was swimming.  To start with I could not swim, but that did not stop me from running around with my cousins. I stayed in the shallow end where my feet could touch the ground.  However, one day I stepped out of my depth literally… as I could not reach the ground anymore.  I thank my lucky stars that I did not panic, instead when my feet touched the ground I slowly walked out of the water.  I recall my father tying a banana tree to me and throwing me into the water to encourage me to swim. My cousins encouraged me to eat mangoes with insects in, as that allegedly helped you to swim, ‘old wives tales’. I recall practicing under water in the family pond and that’s when I learned to swim. I have many happy memories during the monsoon season in the pond and nearby river’s swimming with my cousins.

Fast forward to 2019, we have tarmac and fizzy drink at our disposal if you can afford it.  The cows that used to plough the land have been replaced by tractors and many of the men and women have become displaced of their daily chores.  A handful have managed to leave the country seeking their fortune and have added to a growing middle class in my village returning every now and then to reacquaint themselves with their home land.  Those that are having to work for a living seem to be skin and bone and many of them have lost their cheeks it seems through a lack of some vitamins. Those that don’t have to work, there waist line has started to increase along with diabetes and other ailments.  I guess that’s that price you have to pay for fizzy drinks and tarmacked roads.

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  1. I am held by your account of the small boy fleeing in alarm from his loving ‘orphaned’ mother. You write so simply I don’t notice the writing – always the sign of good writing. Authentic and gripping on even ordinary experience. In my 77 years as a town and country citizen I have seen such great changes in villages, in so many places. How can a village survive in sight – real and virtual – of the lure of the teeming city? The story of this ’emigration’ is contained in the annual Brit pantomime ‘Dick Whittington and his Cat’ – its roots in a medieval event repeated many times, with the ending of feudalism. Unlike a villager’s fantasy about the city, villages don’t have their ‘streets paved with gold’ – the way Richard Whittington, raised in Pauntney in Gloucestershire, imagined the great city of London. Across the world, people are abandoning villages to make this ancient rural-urban journey (I’d hazard that you know Bangla Deshi folk stories about the country to city journeys. These day people who’ve made the journey or had it recounted to them in family history, revisit ‘their’ village for real, as well as going there in dreams and memories. Few, but the prosperous retired, move from cities to make their home in a village. I wonder if there could be a myth comparable to the Dick Whittington story that would tell of such a switch; put the global trend into reverse – a cosmopolitan youth (girl or boy) finding a remote village in which to make their fortune. What a film! Or indeed a pantomime. .

    • Hi Simon, I have only learned how to access comments…
      Thank you for your comments, especially about writing. I have always struggled with writing and now it appears that I am finding my confidence.
      The comparison with Dick Wittington, I would never have made…

      I have had the good fortune of living such a complex life with so many experiences with the highs and lows that come with it. More to come, and one day a book, I hope.

      Thank you for reading and your kind words of encouragement.

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