Growing Up In Newport
Growing up in Newport, a small town in Wales, my experience of Bangladesh was through the narration of my Parents. For my Parents, being Bangladeshi in some sense meant feeling connected to the natural land. Their rose-tinted lense painted a picture of vivid green paddy fields, mango orchards and hot summers. My Brothers and I were desperate to visit this utopia and enjoy the experience for ourselves.
The time came, and my Parents decided in the summer of 1988 that they would reintroduce us to our birthplace. With so much expectation and excitement for this long-anticipated trip, we told our school friends we were going ‘home’ for summer. During our holiday, I remember having to visit countless relatives, and being forced to eat everywhere we went. We spent sweaty, hot nights in total darkness because the electricity had cut out. The noise of generators and the smell of mosquito coils hung stagnant in the humid air. My Brothers and I faked constant tummy aches, we took it in turns to keep Amma awake, hoping our act would expedite our return ‘home’.
Once back in our familiar territory, we barely thought about Bangladesh in our teens. We were enjoying the emergence of Bhangra, Zee TV and Bollywood. Our identity was more ‘Asian’ than ‘Bangladeshi’; we forged friendships with Pakistanis and Indians as we looked similar, we were happy to be bundled by our British counterpart as ‘Asians’. Strangely, we never questioned or were bothered that we were being fudged into one continent, we were too busy and eager to grow up.
My professional career started as a civil servant in the Office of National Statistics, my office was based between Horse Guards Parade and Millbank Tower. Throughout my career I flourished in the corporate environment, only stopping to have my family. Whilst raising my 3 boys, I established a property investment company, which I continue to run. I do often wonder how different my life would have been had my Parents stayed in Bangladesh. Would I have been afforded all these opportunities and privileges? Would I achieve all that I have with such ease?
My husband, Dr Kowsar Hoque, is a UCL graduate. He had a stronger kinship to Bangladesh, as he was sent to boarding school in Dhaka for two years during his early teens. After graduating from Medical School, he established a charity called the Bangladesh Medical Relief Foundation. Through the lense of his work, I began to realise my understanding of Bangladesh was very fragmented. One of the pivotal points was when we took our children to Bangladesh for the first time. As the wheels hit the hot tarmac of Bangladesh Airport I felt a pull in my stomach; I don’t know whether it was the gravity or my roots pulling me safely to the ground. I began to visit more often, and with every visit my appreciation for my birthplace grew. I started to weave my abstract knowledge to form a better picture of the place. Today, Bangladesh has much to celebrate, as the economic transformation is a subject discussed in commercial forums. The success, in my opinion, was driven in large part by social change; starting with the empowerment of women. Bangladesh has made significant strides toward educating girls and giving women a greater voice, both in the household and the public sphere.
As I reflect upon my life in Britain, I realise, during the time I was growing from a child to an adult, so was my Motherland. Bangladesh was only nine years old when we left to live in the UK. Like us, She needed time to settle, she needed support to grow and find her place in the world, and today she is considered a formidable emerging country.
In conclusion, London is my present and future, Bangladesh is my ancestral past that is woven deeply into the fabric of my life. I will always be grateful to have two places to call home. However, Bangladesh and Britain are juxtaposed in many ways; one is an international heavy weight, well-heeled with established traditions. The other is new blood, fearless, feisty, and constantly fighting against the odds. To have all these tremendous values through nature and nurture, I feel both privileged and honoured. When I look in the mirror, the reflection that I see is an embodiment of two nations, Britain and Bangladesh is my DNA, the two stranded helix is what we come to know as a ‘British Bangladeshi’.
I now find myself narrating the same picture of vivid green fields, mango orchards and hot summers to my three boys - hoping the legacy continues.
Written by Rukshana Hoque