Personal History

A Passage to Bangladesh

Sreedeep is a sociologist and a fellow with C-PACT, Shiv Nadar University, Noida
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The homecoming

There are occasions when simple stories lose the plot in the marshy depths of nostalgia. Such an immersion may happen when a second-generation refugee travels to his ancestral homeland. That home is in a land which is still unified by a common language but divided by an irreversible border.

The idea of the boundary has become obsolete for many of us who browse and zoom into geographies on Google Maps but the memory of separation still looms large in the psyche of those who suffered. The freedom which arrived that midnight went through the labour pains of aborted properties, looted savings, split roads, destroyed markets, burnt households, damaged kitchens, divided courtyards and much more. The wounds might have dried up, but a strange sense of belonging and pathos persists that borders on a partitioned sense of being.

For a Bengali whose previous generation migrated out of compulsion and had to negotiate with ‘refugee’ status for decades in India, there is every reason to feel awkward as Bangladesh (the homeland) becomes videsh (foreign-land) after a brief crossing. Be it the Benapole border or Dhaka airport, it feels strange to be treated as a foreigner when you speak the same language. You question your own identity as you are considered just another ‘Indian’ by the security guards marking the boundary of East Bengal. Your national identity as an ‘Indian’ literally plunders your provincial, linguistic, cultural identity as you ponder this strange subjugation while showing your Indian passport. For a moment, you want to shout and scream in front of the immigration officials in Dhaka that “I am a Bengali first, just like you are”, but you stay quiet, realising the futility of such an emotional outburst.

As you explore the city and the countryside in Bangladesh, you wake up to the realisation that borders could be self- defeating and that ‘othering’ is often imposed. You also come to terms with the fact that Bangladesh is not a country defined by its border with India. It’s an idea that you see being lived— an idea that emerges out of sheer love for the language—and a language that you experience being loved. The moment you try and translate this sentiment, it’s bound to get lost in translation. Luckily, I do not have to depend on a translated script, as it happens to be my language too.