Farzana Banu Shirin (Syedpur, Bangladesh)

Settling in

Farzana's father wanted his children to be able to speak and write Urdu, but because Farzana studied in Khulna to get a better education and because her father also wanted her to be integrated into Bengali society, Farzana doesn't speak Urdu as well as other Bihari children of Syedpur. Biharis of Farzana's generation mostly speak Bengali as a first language anyway; Urdu is spoken only at home but not in every home. Farzana can read and write elementary Urdu but nothing too complicated.

When I was a child, especially when I went to school in Khulna, we were scared to talk in Urdu so nobody knew who was what. It was only when we visited friends' houses and heard how people talked at home that we knew whether a person was an Urdu-speaker or a Bengali.

They didn't want to be 'found out' as Biharis or Urdu-speakers as they were afraid they would be discriminated against and considered inferior.

It's funny: when I wear coloured clothes and plenty of bangles then I’m a 'bling-bling Bihari', but when Bengalis wear the exact same things, they call themselves 'smart' and 'fashionable'. Now things are changing and Bengalis want to marry into our families and they look for educated Bihari girls.

Things are different now. These days some Bengalis even join in the Muharram festivities and allow their children to join in with the Bihari children. One woman in our school dresses her son up as a paiki [a young boy who dresses as a horse during the festival of Muharram] each year and another woman makes offerings of sherbet so that her son gets cured of chronic illnesses.

Farzana feels she is better integrated than many of her friends because her father gave her pride in being Bihari by sharing Urdu poems with her. At the same time, he wanted his children to learn and enjoy Bengali literature and poetry.

Sometimes my father gets upset that we can't understand his poems and so he invites his friends over, and they sit together and recite poetry; he feels sad that we can't participate in these events.

Would Farzana teach Urdu to her children?

Yes, but I'll teach them Bengali first because we're in Bangladesh so that will be my priority. And I won't force them to speak Urdu if they don't want to. The other reason I want my children to learn Bengali first is because teaching them Urdu will be of little use in Bangladesh – what advantage will it give them?

Farzana would also be open to marrying a Bengali man if it were left up to her but,

These things are not usually decided by the individual but by the family and so I'll marry whoever my parents choose.

Note in Urdu


Paikis - children dressed as horses


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