By Kamrul Khan
Before I started my gallivanting-through-Asia tour and before the Coronavirus caused havoc throughout the world and changed my plans to move to China to live with my wife; I was in a taxi in New York and the Bengali taxi driver and I got talking. We asked about each others’ lives, he told me that he just became a citizen so he was excited since that meant he was one step closer to bringing his wife to the US. He was shocked when I told him my wife, an American citizen, was teaching in China. He was even more shocked to find out that I just quit my job and was planning on moving there as well. His reason for concern was not related to the virus (as this was weeks before the first case) and it wasn’t financial, or related to the Chinese government’s treatment of Muslims. He simply said “manush ki bolbay?” or “ what will people say”?His reasoning was that people in BD would give their right arm to come to the US, and here we are but are moving as far as we can from the US, to a nation people in BD consider inferior to the US. He also suggested that Bengali people in NY would think I was crazy for leaving the US, a country Bengalis work so hard to get to. It’s not lost on me that Hassan Minhaj’s Netflix special focused on the Hindi translation of “manush ki bolbay” = “Lok kya kayengay”. In his special, Hassan took us on a journey through his life and the many times his family uttered these words in response to a decision he made, such as marrying someone outside his religion. But this was a stranger who was so trained to consider what the greater society will think of his life decisions and was shocked that I didn’t share in his train of thought. I told him that this was something I’ve always wanted to do. To take a year off travel, take a break, learn a new skill and maybe come back fresh and energized to perhaps make a career change or focus on things I’ve considered a passion project (BoNY!) “Apnay bhalo bujhen” is what he told me sarcastically still not convinced, which translates “You understand well”.
I won’t argue about wether my decision to move to China was the right one (obviously in hindsight it wasn’t bc the Coronavirus has changed everything), it’s a difficult decision to quit a stable job to go across the world and try something new. That’s not the point. I am, however, questioning the need to consider what people outside my family and close friends think of my decision. Manush Ki bolbay? Kon Manush? “What people”? Why do some Bengalis care so much about what people say? “Abbu, Ami college Jabo na”. (“Dad, I’m not going to college”) “Manush ki bolbay?” “Ammu, Ami amar ekta chelay friender shathay jackson heights jassi” (“Mom, I’m going to jackson heights with my male friend”) “Chelay bondhu?! Manush ki bolbay!?” “Abba, ami chool color korbo” “Manush ki bolbay!?” “Ammu, ami ekjonkay bia korbo, o ekta divorcee” “ Manush ki bolbay!? To reiterate, I’m not trying to proselytize that decisions above are the right ones, but questioning the need to consider what the greater Bengali community has to say about those decisions. People that love taking about other people and judging will always talk about other people and judge. Should we just let them talk and go about our business?
Certainly, the taxi driver was right. Many people did question my decision. At what point do we owe it to ourselves to forget what people are saying and go with our research, gut, or is there a way to achieve a happy marriage between?