Dawat (n) – A festive or joyous meal; a grand, ceremonious, or sumptuous entertainment, of which many guests partake; a banquet characterized by tempting variety and abundance of food.
As children of Bangladeshi heritage, you will all understand the importance of social life. Our social life plays a great big role in our lives, so much that it overshadows personal development, hobbies, extra-curricular activities and the general passion to do something different. We become enslaved to the need to being around people, having a good laugh, wearing nice clothes and generally having a good night.
Such has been my life, until quite recently. Ever since I can remember, weekends were basically dedicated to decking up, being excited about who we are going to see and what we are going to eat, eating, then coming home and going to bed. Level of self-development attained – ZERO. Plans for next week? Same thing. A continuous cycle of parties, events and the same people. But please, do not misunderstand me. I love the friends I have made over the years. But in the process of making friends, we Bangladeshi children have lost ourselves.
If someone asked me today, what my hobbies are, I would simply shrug my shoulders. Honestly, I do not know. I do not know who I am and what I like doing and this is mainly because I have spent my entire life being around other people. Ask me, what I like doing or what I’d do if I were by myself I wouldn’t know because I was not raised to grow my own hobbies. I was raised to pick up on hobbies passed down from previous generations. And if we chose not to pick up on those habits, hell probably broke lose. There is no such thing as individualism in a Bangladeshi household. You are either your mother’s child or your father’s because you do the same things that they like doing. Your parents probably picked up the same habits from their parents or relatives. Take a closer look at those “traits” – was it usually cooking, sewing, active participation in politics? How long have these been passed down?
I went to a private elite private school in Malaysia where I spent some of the most loneliest and difficult days of my life, primarily due to racism and preferential treatment of over-privileged white kids. The school held extra-curricular activities during weekends. Never once could I attend any of those. Why? Dawats. Every weekend it was either an invitation to eat at someone’s house or a group of families travelled together to a certain location to chat, be entertained, eat and be entertained further. Sadly and quite often, after we came home, we were asked to write an essay about the picnic. A picnic arranged by our parents, which we had no say in, and in my case – wearing clothes pre-decided for me.
I could never fit in with the children at Alice Smith. We had nothing in common. I had nothing I could talk to them about. In a typical Bangladeshi household, you only went to parties. We did not do anything interesting over the weekend or picked up a new activity. I liked going to museums and because my mother did not, we only went the one time because you cannot live in a country and not visit the most famous tourist attractions. However, that was it. We went to Bangladesh every damn school holiday because my father wanted us to have a connection with our homeland. A pretty redundant connection if you ask me. My country has done nothing for me, nor will it ever so why bother keeping this connection? For years and years I suffered because I was a mediocre, boring brown kid in school that had nothing interesting to say. I had no friends. for five years, I suffered. I suffered tremendously.
There is a need to allow our children to find a safe place in their lives – a safe places in their hobbies. We need to allow them to grow into an activity they find most appealing. Some Bangladeshi parents will say, “He’s too young to know what she likes so he’ll do what I make him do.” NO! How can you expect the mind of a 5 year old to decide what he wants to do with the remaining 70 years of his life? How can you expect him to know things when he is barely understanding how the world operates or how to string letters into words and words into sentences? We can guide them and encourage them to take up an activity that they think they will enjoy. But we should not and CANNOT rebuke them for chaging their minds. Let them change their little minds. as many times as they need!
By allowing our children to grow into their own shoes we are giving them the greatest gift of all – self-confidence. I want Maheera to take her own decisions. As a parent I am there to help, guide and encourage her. But if I decide for her, she will never have the confidence she needs to prosper. Each and every one of us have a different mechanism which is ignited in a different way. You cannot pre-determine this. You, as parents, cannot ignite their machinery for them. You need to let them figure that out for themselves. They have to develop their own poise and understand who they are and what they are capable of. You cannot do this for them. Don’t raise puppets or miniature version of yourselves and feel brought that your child took after you. I would be beaming if my daughter was a pretty damn good version of herself, confident in her acts and decisions.
I recently picked up again on photography and I sent a few photos to my parents. One of them, asked a few questions about where the place was and a few technical questions. The other said nothing. Photography does not interest that parent. What they fail to see her that this has deeply discouraged me so much so that I feel like giving it up. As parents, your children always look up to you for approval. Because they know nothing but you and you are everything to them. Why is it that Bangladeshi parents do not appreciate the things their children do as soon as it is different from their own interests? Why do we fail in your eyes if we do not do the things you would like us to do?
If I had cooked a grand meal of 16 dishes and filled my dining table form one corner to the other and invited 12 guests, our mothers would burst with pride. If I actively took part in idealism and read every magazine of The Economist back to front, our fathers would have no regrets. What if I did neither? How have I thus failed? Do you know where I actually failed?
I do not know who I am. Am I my mother or am I my father? Am I combination of both? Am I an Australian or am I a Bangladeshi? Do I like photography? Do I like sewing? I have no skill because I spent my entire life accompanying you to dawats. I have no confidence in myself because I cannot decide for myself. Every time I did not meet your expectation, I became I failure. I strongly draw a thick black line between this and the need to have a good social life. Society will never help you be a better person. Society will bring you down because everyone wants to reach the top.
As you grow Maheera, I promise you two things, we will travel to understand and learn about humanity. We will learn about humility and how our differences are our greatest strengths. We will also give ourselves the time and the space to grow and discover what shape we want to take so we can stand proud.