Italy beckons Bangladeshis | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 02, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 02, 2019

Italy beckons Bangladeshis

Ten years' back my two daughters and I took a vacation to Venice, Italy. I was the only earning member, both girls were students. I found them planning about what to eat and which restaurants to frequent. I warned them, `Ma, we shall have budget meals like burgers and pizza slices from corner stores but one evening will be an evening of celebrations. You can choose your restaurant'.

Lovely as they are, my two daughters followed their Mom's dictate, we took the water boats, getting off here, walking there, and enjoying the ambience of Venice. We looked at the special Murano pieces on display and had to satisfy ourselves with window shopping, as the credit card did not have much to its credit. We saved all our funds for the grand meal. We took the ride on the gondolas and on the last day arrived at a very fancy Italian restaurant. My daughters had researched the menu, they had looked at other restaurants and recommendations, read reviews and finally we were set on this particular one. All their favourite dishes, including prawns were ordered and we had a wonderful time chatting and unwinding. The head waiter brought us the bill and we had paid the fancy bill, when he humbly asked, `Are you from India?'

I said, `No, we are from Bangladesh'.

`Oh Bangladesh! We have never had any clients from Bangladesh! You will be happy to know that our chef, who made all your dishes, is from Bangladesh.' We said, ok to that and were about to leave. The head waiter made an apologetic face and said, `Can you wait one moment the chef wants to meet you because this is the first time any Bangladeshi client has had food here'.

Of course, we waited; the young man came and met us. He had been working in Italy for more than six years and had trained in Italian cooking etc.

I had been writing academic articles on Bangladeshi migrants to Italy, I knew about the huge population that has migrated, the legalization received in 1994 which has resulted in a great exodus of Bangladeshis from other parts of Europe, especially Germany.

Now in 2018, again ten years later, my daughters and I decided to have a family outing in Florence, Italy. More for me, because I have been dying to see the famous David by Michelangelo housed in the Galleria dell' Academia. This time, both daughters are working and I am the sole dependent. They are carrying mobile phones, with the google maps and directing me everywhere. After reaching Florence on the evening of the tenth of December, our first destination was the food court. It was freezing as we walked past shops on two sides. Vendors selling their wares, mostly cheap leather bags, shoes and other touristic items situated on two sides of the road. With my ears all covered up in a heavy woolen cap, I heard the sound of Barisal dialect chatter. One of the salesmen shouted to another about the price of something. Another man was speaking loudly on his mobile, most probably to someone in Bangladesh.It took me back to my Purana Paltan days, where I lived during my childhood in Dhaka. As I walked around my house, it took me five minutes to reach Jinnah Avenue (now Bangabandhu Av.). Men had their wares on two sides of the footpath,people were viewing objects with an intention to buy or just haggle and in the midst of that the vendors, sellers were chatting amongst themselves. I felt the same way, I looked at my daughters, ` Ma where have you brought me, is this Baitul Mukarram market?' `Oh Mummy', says my younger one, `everything interesting you always go back to your Purana Paltan days'. The thought flickered in my mind; I thought of my Dad, he always spoke of Cooch Bihar where he grew up in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. Life must be the same for everyone, always going in circles, always going back to your childhood associations, it made me so nostalgic. Seeing my Bangladeshi brothers selling wares and speaking in Bangla, I could not help myself, defying the cold, I spoke to them at length.

When I went to the piazza of Michelangelo, I was buying things by conversing in Bangla, same near the Duomo and I found out a paratha /bhaji shop in Rome where we stopped one night. One of my friends remarked in facebook, `Did you have to go to Rome to have paratha-bhaji?' It isn't that! I had spoken to the brothers; they are doing much better than before. They were selling roses earlier and frequenting the sea beaches selling ear rings and toffees. They had looked dissipated! Now there was a smile on their faces, I asked someone in Florence, `So how are you doing?' The young man replied back,` Oh we are doing well, we have families here and also our parents'. My happiness knew no bounds, only a year ago I had read an article, `Bangladeshi flower seller saves woman from 25 man gang rape attempts in Italy'. ( October 2017). The place was Florence and the name of the lady was Guarnotta who twittered `Thank You to this world for there is people like Hossein, who help without wanting anything in return'.


Nashid Kamal is an Academic, Nazrul exponent and translator.

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