This Is Our Heritage

 

Two hundred years of imperialism and two world wars later

The illusory borders opened and allowed us in

Rebuild our country; make us whole again!

And in return, we'll give you the privilege of becoming British

We worked our fingers to the bone in factories

Our brown hands piercing thick leathers into suitcases

We cooked our spices into delicious curries in restaurants

Our chicken tikka masala now a national British dish

We kept our heads down and our manners in check

Because we didn’t speak the language of this foreign land

But when we walked home, we were bullied and beaten

Our cramped basements and attics stolen and sold by white men

Front doors hatefully scarred and letterboxes fireproofed

The innocence of childhood slashed with broken bottles of racism

 

Britain needed us, called for us, enticed us even

But she also loathed us, abhorred us, treated us like vermin

 

Some generations later, we created a little Bangladesh in the capital

Buildings have changed purposes from churches to synagogues to mosques

Street names written in Bengali, shops selling paan and hutki

A park named after Altab Ali; a Shaheed Minar erected in his memory

Schools and youth centres supporting the Bangladeshi community

This generation is educated; some have the option of a white collar job

It sounds like we're doing alright - but are we really?

Look closely at the faces and you'll see lines of worries

As families live hand to mouth, trying to save the pennies

Walking down narrow streets littered with fast-food wrappers

And the homeless begging for two pounds for a hot cup of tea

 

For a city that's meant to be one of the richest in the world

Why is east London stuck in a cycle of poverty?

 

This is our heritage: a mixed bag of irony

We live in bricked houses but they’re often overcrowded

We have money but not enough for social mobility

We're educated but missing key knowledge needed in life

Like how to buy a home, how to grow a business and how to do our taxes

 

This is our heritage: a recipe of blood, sweat and tears shed by our ancestors

More than a million Indians fighting in World War I

More than two million Indians fighting in World War II

More than three million Bengalis starving on the streets

While Churchill steals our crops to feed the Brits

Millions died and millions more displaced

As the invisible hands of Britain fuelled the bloody partition

Carved up India out of fear that she may be more powerful

 

This is our heritage: a booming silk and cotton industry now in tatters

Fast fashion made in Bangladesh, women and children paid with excruciating death

As the Rana Plaza cracked and crumbled, crunching their arms and legs, body and head

 

What is my heritage?

Is it Hindustan - the land of perfectly cut gemstones once revered around the world?

Or British Raj - a country exporting raw goods but consuming finished products from overseas?

Is it the twenty-four years we existed as East Pakistan?

Or the bloody war of rape when Bangladesh finally emerged as a new state?

Perhaps it's when my grandpa came to the UK in the seventies, or my dad in the eighties, or I in the nineties

Is it the experiences of Bangladeshis before me who marched the streets of London to abolish racism?

Or the terraced Victorian houses I grew up in, the state schools I went to and the community centres I took up activities in?

Is it the not-so-perfect Bengali and the fluent English I speak, is it having an English breakfast in the morning and rice and curry in the evening?

 

My heritage is a conflict

A finely interwoven muslin of liberation and oppression

Gratitude and anger creating a culinary combustion

Prejudices in the past now privileges in the present

While Bangladesh remains a shell of what it once was

And I wonder what the world would have been like

Had England never stepped foot in India

*commissioned by Blueprint For All and displayed at the People and Places exhibition 2022

The road not taken

I spent many years afraid

Because the society we lived in told me to be

I spent many years wearing many masks because

The society we lived in instilled in me

That in order to belong and in order to fit in

I had to be the same as she

I tried very hard to squeeze into a box

I shied away from what I truly was

Only after I hit rock bottom did I

Finally slowly quietly find

The strength and courage to take the time

To travel the path less travelled by those in suits and ties

And once the fear was broken through

The life I dreamt was in reach too

One that allowed me to explore and find

That true power really lies within the mind

I no longer believe I couldn’t and can’t

I now see that mentality plays a part

In shaping my life, wellbeing and happiness

And the path to achievement and success

But this is something that is not taught

In our schools and homes, this is where we fall short

So we spend years thinking we are broken

When really, it’s the skeleton of our system

And the infrastructure of our culture

Preying on our weaknesses like a vulture

One that tells us we are not beautiful as we are

And by a certain age, we should have reached this far

And the alphabets printed on a piece of paper

Defines our intelligence, labelling us as achievers or failures

Never mind that intelligence is to forever grow and change

And that life is a journey filled with losses and gains

We need to wake up and question things

Are we actually living or just existing?

We need to become researchers, thinkers, planners and speakers

If we want to, we can become brilliant leaders

It starts with using our common sense and trusting our intuition

Making decisions for ourselves and practising compassion

 

Because change begins with oneself before it becomes a movement

*inspired by Robert Frost

Chains

I do not miss the chains of academia

The longer I am out of it

The more I think freedom does not lie in civilisation

But in the wilderness

Life is not meant to be lived in a lecture hall

But felt

On a dusty road

With the sun beating down

On the back of my bare neck

And my eyes drinking in greedily

All that my soul has been starved of

You went back to what you know

Don’t go back, she said

You should get out of your comfort zone

But I felt sad

And yearned to be somewhere safe and comfortable

I have been out of my comfort zone, I replied

Sometimes it’s okay to take a small step back

Going back to what you know does not mean you are giving up

It can mean taking the time to heal until you are ready to move again

Sometimes

I hate how we are encouraged and praised

For having the ambition of being a wife and a mother

And challenged and silenced, or simply ignored

For wanting to experiment and explore

I hate how our bastard fathers

Have suppressed our mothers

And how our pitiful women

Have limited our children

As difficult as it may be

Some stories are so ingrained

That to unwrite them

Would take an entire lifetime

That I do not have

To give