I am not an unsocial woman, trust me, but my mental peace is important to me, so important that I can easily shun individuals who leave me sad and irate. I do not attend large, boisterous 'deshi' parties anymore. I carefully choose my company. My conclusion from three years of attending such parties is that most people arrange and attend these get-togethers to gossip about other people's failures and inadequacies, to flaunt their own culinary accomplishments, and to flash their new wardrobes, of course.
I have realised over time that I am a complete misfit at these 'deshi' parties. I do not fit into the stifling status quo - I am not a great cook, I wear very casual clothes, and I am not an expert gossipmonger.
Also, I enjoy talking about world politics, technology, climate change, and healthy eating more than I like to talk about divorce, infertility, break-ups, extramarital affairs, clothes, jewellery, and the latest Bollywood flicks.
If I am not a misfit, then who is?
I also do not know how to handle certain situations. I do not know how to react when someone older than me lectures about the right age to have a baby. What do you really say to a person who tells you indirectly that your biological clock is ticking? But now that I am a mother, you would think that the likelihood of having to listen to such a lecture is slim, but no! If I still hung out with those people, they perhaps would now be making long statements about how lonely my daughter must be without a sibling.
Once at a 'deshi' party, I stared in dismay at one woman when she sneered at another woman for not having a child. The woman who was sneered at actually failed to conceive after years of trying. Glum cast across the poor woman's face; her entire weekend was perhaps ruined by that one incident.
I have heard stories about childless couples, and how some Bangladeshi parents do not allow their children to go near them lest they bring misfortune upon the children. Unimaginable as it may sound, but such incidents do happen among Bangladeshis here in the U.S. too. Even after having lived and studied in the West for years and decades, many of us possess minds that are heavily cramped with irrational beliefs and superstitions.
I like to stay away from toxic people. So, I do not feel bad at all about my present situation, where I mingle with only a handful of families. Except for one, none of these families are from Bangladesh. And that is fine by me.
I think when I mingle with people different from me, it widens my horizons. Association with people from different cultures, races, ages, and lifestyles enriches a person. From an hour-long conversation, you can actually learn something that you had never known before. You come to know about a new recipe, a word, an idiom, a custom, or a ritual. It also helps dissolve prejudices and stereotypes that people may have about certain culture, country or religion.
When you hang out with people from other cultures, you also do not have to use terms like 'bhai' or 'bhabi' to address people. People do not mind when you call them by their names. You cannot do that with Bangladeshis.
Funnily enough, in a foreign country, even a man old enough to be my uncle becomes my 'bhai,' and a middle-aged woman my 'bhabi.' I am allergic to the word 'bhabi,' by the way. It has been overused to the extent that it has lost all its past charm!
So, when someone tries to call me 'bhabi,' I politely ask him or her to either call me 'apu' or just by my name.
I have seen and heard many unpleasant things during my life abroad, which have led me to believe that I would be much better off without negative people, people who make me feel low, bitter, unproductive, and angry.
Shafia (not her real name) is a homemaker and mother of two. She lives in Toronto, Canada. In an online conversation with her, she was telling me that at an Eid party a few weeks ago, a woman said to her, “You look like someone who controls her husband all the time!”
When an upset and astonished Shafia asked the woman why she thought so, the reply was, “Just a gut feeling!"
The incident left Shafia agitated, and she was asking me if I thought the same of her.
These small incidents happen all the time in the Bangladeshi community abroad; people pass comments without a second thought. I think some women derive sadistic pleasure from hurling abusive remarks at other women, the targets generally being calm creatures of soft nature.
There is no denying that there are kind, courteous, and sensible people in the immigrant Bangladeshi community, it is just that most of the people I have come across belong to the other end of the spectrum. Or who knows, maybe my luck has disfavoured me!
In the end, I think I would rather spend my time alone or with my family than mingle with people who fill me with negative feelings. In a life away from home, unwanted emotional stress is the last thing I want to deal with.
By Wara Karim