My country is covered by a Hijab

Kalyani Rama:

By Award-Winning Photo Journalist Shahnaz Parvin

“Eid”. When I hear the sound, my heart still softens with love. Growing up in Bangladesh, the advertisement ‘we want new shoes during Puja’ was not prevalent in my life. Although I was Hindu, rather than celebrating Pujas, the festival I looked forward to the most was Eid.

Celebrating Eid meant eating pulao, korma, rezala, kebab, semai, zarda pulao… Yes, I’m a little gluttonous. I used to be eager to eat such delicious foods at my friends’ homes twice a year during Eid. In my Hindu house, my grandmother, although she was the greatest cook in the world, could not cook the meat properly. She used to make meat curry with cumin powder! To eat delicious meat, I had to go to my Muslim friends’ houses.

My grandfather, who always was respectful of other’s religions, used to keep a ‘zanamaj’- a prayer mat- in our house so his devout Muslim friends could pray when they came to our home. My grandmother used to make me and my sister new dresses every Eid, even though we never asked for them. Today my grandmother and grandfather are no longer around- but I still have my Bangladesh.

But what should I do when it seems like my Bangladesh has been covered by a hijab!

The last time I went to visit my home, I looked around the streets of Dhaka and saw that not many women were wearing sarees- rather, they were wearing salwar, kameez, and hijabs. The men wore a strange kind of salwar kurta, the salwars not even reaching their ankles! What Bangladesh was I looking at?

Bangladesh is not Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but my golden Bengal. We bled for a secular country. Four hundred thousand Bangladeshi women were raped, three million people were killed, ten million people became refugees, thirty million civilians became internally displaced in the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, and a planned killing of intellectuals took place at the dawn of independence, a killing which was one of the most brutal massacres in history.

So why, when we fought so hard for a secular nation, are these hijabs, strange salwar, kameez , and kurta appearing from nowhere? As a child, I always saw women wearing sarees, jasmine garlands adorning their hair and tips displayed against their foreheads. Now, if you want to see somebody dressed up like that, you have to look for the women who sing Tagore songs!

At the age of eighteen, I went to India to study. Not long after, I moved to America. I have been out of my country for many years, but every evening and early in the morning, my soul is eager to hear the tune of ‘azaan’. When I last visited Bangladesh, as I laid awake in the early hours of the morning due to jetlag, I heard ‘Azan’ after so many years! My eyes filled with tears.

Yes, ‘Azan’ is mine. ‘Eid’ is mine. ‘Zaynamaj’ – the prayer mat- is mine. Even though I am an atheist, I belong there. Please don’t cover everything that has been inside my blood since birth with these ‘hijabs.’

Reproduced from the writer’s personal blog.

About the writer:

Kalyani Rama is a Bangladesh-born Bilingual author. She has seven published books in Bengali. Kalyani has written for the newspaper ‘The Wisconsin State Journal’, and other literary magazines.

Kalyani has received her Bachelor of Technology degree in Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering, from IIT, Kharagpur, India.

She is an Application Development Senior Engineer by profession and works in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

Kalyani loves listening to people, animals, and trees.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are the author’s own views.

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