P.C. Noor Ali
Note: I speak a mixture of Bengali and English with my parents. Little bits of the conversation in this piece have been translated for ease of understanding for my English speaking readers.
Our first few days in the village were probably the hardest, primarily because these were significantly different living conditions than those that my siblings and I were used to. Even in Dhaka, the hospitality of my Aunty and Uncle meant that we were getting round-the-clock five-star treatment (my Uncle is a hotelier who lives and breathes to provide great service).
And so, coming to the village where, no joke, I was debating whether this was even one-star living, was, in those first two days, a very great shock to the system.
After this two-day grace period, the Yellow House began filling up. Word had gotten out in the village that there were ‘Londonis’ in town. And my Dad is already known for being a very charitable man.
I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about my parents on this blog. Well here goes: my parents are two of the most loving and kindest individuals you could ever meet and I don’t just say that because they’re my parents.
They have hearts of gold.
Something else that they have in common with each other is that they are both generous, with my Father being the type to give the shirt off of his own back to some random Iqbal who’s now unknowingly walking around the village in JL’s finest 😂! And my Mum, oh goodness, let us not get started on her – her speciality includes giving away her smartphones (that we buy her, every time man)!
Anyway, my parents’ generosity extended so far that they had essentially opened our holiday home, the Yellow House, to the poor and needy. It came from a good place but I’m going to be honest with you, it was getting on my last nerves.
Dad would welcome the most random acquaintances from surrounding villages, including beggars and entertain them for hours on end. He would listen to their troubles and give them charity. Which is so commendable and which I had no problem with at all and in fact, made my respect and admiration for my Father grow tenfold.
My grievance lay in the fact that it was some of these same people who Dad was helping morning, noon and night, day in and day out, round-the-clock, that soon began taking the absolute piss.
They were overly curious. They would always wonder about from one room to the other without asking anyone, go into our bedrooms and touch and move our personal belongings.
(FYI, I’m all about personal space. I don’t like random people touching my stuff and worst still, touching me. Unless it’s my Mum, Dad or niece who are giving me a kiss, it just cannot run. My face and personal space are absolutely off limits).
Unfortunately, here in the village, personal space just wasn’t a thing. It was apparent that I would not be able to enforce boundaries without seeming as though I was disrespecting people. And on a practical level, locking doors was unfeasible because there are at least fifteen doors and worse still, the house is open plan.
There was simply nothing I could do but just sit there in most unease, with what felt, at times, like a complete lack of privacy. Even when it was clear from the look of discomfort on my face to some of these people that I was unhappy with them encroaching on my personal space, they just didn’t care. It was even better for them – “She’s from London, they’re polite. They won’t tell us to stop”.
And they were bloody right!
I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t want to upset them because them getting upset would sadden my lovely Dad.
And on top of this, because of the unannounced arrival of completely random people at all hours of the day, every single day, we couldn’t be impolite. We had to host them for our entire two week stay in the fatherland. Even if that meant sacrificing our plans to go into the city and to the resort and to dine out. Those plans just went straight out of the window.
It was a travesty.
About five days into my stay in the village, Dad and I were sat on the veranda. It was night time and for once, there were no guests about. We were sat under the dim glow of the porch lights. Crickets chirruped in the background as we sat in silence.
Dad was in absolute peace. And I was not.
“Screw it, I’m breaking the silence”, I thought.
“Yeah, what’s up”?
“Listen Abba, this has been an interesting experience. Very authentic. Met some lovely people”. (And I had, I’d caught up with his sister, the sweetheart that is my Aunty, and I’d been to see my brother’s lovely family too. And I loved them all).
“And these hikes I’ve been going on in the evenings with my brother and niece, they’ve been incredible”, I continued. “The countryside is green and glorious. Honestly, the views here, I am lovin’ ‘emmm. But…
…I’m ready to go back to our relatives in the city”.
My Dad chuckled. He chuckled! He was finding this funny. He knew I was a city girl through and through and he knew I’d find this a struggle and want out.
“Amar shida furi. Acha. How about you go to Nani’s after Eid in two days”?
“I’ll take it. It’s a done deal”.
That night as I was about to fall asleep, all too happy with the fact that I’d be saying ‘hasta la vista’ (oh no wait, I was in Bangladesh – khuda hafez, I’d say ‘khuda hafez’) to the village, I thought about how lovely my Father was. How much he had sacrificed for us. And how kind he was (not just for freeing me from the village lol, although I was grateful for that too 😂).
Dad had made the Yellow House the house of small miracles.
It wasn’t just him either. Mum had too. And all three of my brothers.
You could be a poor person, living in one of the neighbouring villages, without a meal and know that if you made the 20-minute walk to the Yellow House, be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, there would be a space for you at our table.
Also, we don’t discriminate – charity doesn’t begin and end with religion. The Hindu beggars? They’d join us for these meals and sit at our table and eat alongside my family too.
And if your kid can’t go to school? It’s okay, my Dad’s got you. Fees for the entire academic year, covered. Oh, and your husband is sick? My Mum is so sorry to hear it: “here, have this to cover his medical fees”, she’d say.
In short, you could be a needy person and come to the Yellow House with a small hope or wish of sorts and as long as it was within their means, my family would try to help you.
I lay in bed thinking about all this. I thought “hmm, it may be that I’m being a vile person in all of this by getting upset because I can’t go and do my excursions and whatnot”.
And then I remembered that before I had come to the village, while I sat on the plane in the clouds above, I had hoped to go to the village and survey which areas needed things like water pumps. So that I could provide the money for them and people could have access to clean water.
But we were staying in a slightly better part of the village where people weren’t as poor and also, I wasn’t allowed to leave the Yellow House to find the poor because it was unsafe for a girl to be wondering about in these parts without a male chaperone.
“I’ll find a way”, I thought. “I’ll do some good too. I have two days”.
And then I knocked out. Because it was tiring you know, this village life.
Vocab check ✅
‘Abba’ means ‘Dad’
‘Amar’ means ‘My’
A ‘shida furi’ translates to ‘silly girl’, (except if you’re Bengali you’ll know that it’s largely used as a term of endearment. Or at least, that’s how my parents use it).
‘Acha’ simply means ‘Alright’