What does it mean to be a BileteBangali?

When you are brought up in bilingual and bi-cultural environs, there are bound to be some dichotomies that those who come from a monocultural upbringing are unlikely to experience.

My parents are traditionally 'Bangali' in heart, mind, and soul. My brother and I grew up understanding that being 'Bangali' meant revering our Hindu canon of Gods and Goddesses; to speak in Bengali when spoken to in Bengali; to know that while we were born and raised in Britain, we were not - and never will be - English.

Having lived in both London and Kolkata at various stages of my life, I have the unique pleasure and bane to have two places that I call 'home'. When people ask me if I have a favourite between the two, I say no - because home is where the heart is and my heart is in both cities.

I love London for its multicultural vibrancy, for being able to camoflagueamidsts its peoples when I want to and for its penchant of allowing me to be who I want to be. Yes, I wear western attire and speak with a British accent, but I also wear sindur and the marital bangles in respect of the traditional customs that come with being a Bangali married woman, the 'bhadro-mahila' as it were. That's who I am and I don't see London having a problem with it.

I love Kolkata too for its cultural bonhomie, its social environs (that I find sometimes caring and sometimes nosey caring at the same time), it's tasty food, its sheer zest for life!

If London has taught me to live and let live, then Kolkata has taught me to tolerate those who need tolerating. If I crave phucka in London and McDonald's when I'm in Kolkata then thanks to globalisation, I can fulfil these cravings wherever I am! If I fancy watching something English/Hollywood in Kolkata and something Bengali in London, to me...that's normal.

My friends and acquaintances in Kolkata think that I speak 'porishkar Bangla' [fluent Bengali], while my English colleagues and friends marvel that I can speak two languages at the same time without even realising it, based on the countless natters they overhear, which I have with my husband over the phone.

I know many of you out there look and feel Bengali in your own unique ways as much as you think that you are British. It isn't easy having a complex identity made up of so many cultural variables, but it is what it is.

This is what living in a diaspora is all about - such dualities and dichotomies are what make up our identities and this is something that we should all appreciate and even celebrate. This is what being BiletiBangali - i.e. British Bengalis of Indian Heritage - is all about.


  • avatar
    Denise Barrett
    April 04, 2017

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