Sunday, July 29, 2012

World Literature

I’ve mentioned before that I have read quite a few books since I have been in Bangladesh. I have never really been a reader, but I thought reading literature from the Indian subcontinent would help me adjust to the culture. Not only has reading these books given me a better understanding of Bangladeshi culture, but these books have been some of my most enjoyable reads.

Tonight, I finished a series of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian American woman. She’s actually from West Bengal making her Bengali (not to be confused with Bangladeshi which means from the country of Bangladesh). The collection of stories is named after one of the nine short stories called “Interpreter of Maladies.” I was drawn to the book for two reasons. First, the Lonely Planet Guide listed it as one of the top 10 Bangladesh reads. Second, one of the stories is about a Midwestern woman who falls in love with a Bangladeshi man, an uncanny resemblance to the fate I joke about with my co-interns.

Each story includes shades of Ms. Lahiri’s cross-cultural upbringing, incorporating aspects of Indian and American culture. Her ability to write with a touch of western perspective made the book much more accessible to me. But what I found even more impressive was my ability to enjoy this book at all. I thought about if I had tried to read this book before my arrival in Bangladesh. I would not have found the material nearly as enjoyable, as it would have soared above my heard without me even knowing it. That is precisely what has made Bengali literature so enjoyable for me; because I have lived the experience, I have an enhanced understanding of the authors’ various texts.

As I make headway into my last week at BRAC, I wish I could have done more work for them. Working solely with the social enterprises limited my experience. Although it taught me a lot about how to run a social enterprise, I had little opportunity to venture into the field speak with the rural poor. However, the times I did go into the field and hearing co-interns stories from the field shed incredible light on my experience in Bangladesh. Living in Dhaka has taught me a lot about Bangladeshi culture, but it is not truly Bangladesh in the sense that it only houses one-tenth of Bangladesh’s population. BRAC gave me the opportunity to understand rural Bangladesh, and what rural poor really means.

One of Ms. Lahiri’s stories called “A Real Durwan (Gatekeeper)” describes a woman who was deported to Calcutta after the partition of India and Bangladesh. Her hardships reminded me of Bangladesh’s violent history just in the last century: a religious-based partition in 1947 and a bloody Liberation War in 1971. It was after the Liberation War that BRAC began its rehabilitation work, helping Bangladesh achieve all that it has today. Although Bangladesh has a long, culturally-rich history, it has only had sovereignty for 40 years. When I think of how young this country really is, I realize how far it has come and how much potential it really has.

Between my urban, rural, personal, and travel experiences in Bangladesh, I learned a lot about this country and life. When I decided to come to Bangladesh this summer, I hoped to come out with a fresh, more worldly understanding of, well, the world. I feel I have achieved this goal, and I look forward to my homecoming to realize just how much I did learn. Without BRAC and Bangladesh, this literature, these people, this country would not make sense to me. Upon finishing Ms. Lahiri’s book, I stumbled upon a passage that describes my feeling completely: 
“I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are time when it is beyond my imagination.” - Jhumpa Lahiri, page 198 of Interpreter of Maladies
Accepting my certificate of participation in the BRAC Internship Program.
Although I am smiling, I am so sad that it's coming to an end. 

1 comment:

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