Monday, June 28, 2010


There are many Bangladeshis, at home and amongst the huge diaspora, who may have something of an identity crisis.

The origin of much of the diaspora goes back to the late 18th and 19th Centuries. Books of the period, such as those of Joseph Conrad, and of the myriad adventure writers, refer, often, to las cars.

These were seamen recruited by traders, or pressed by navies, mostly from the East India Company territories of Bengal and Assam, lands over which, following the Battle of Plassey, John Company had the authority to press or recruit.

Quite why the mariners of Assam, an inland territory, were regarded so highly is unclear. But it was, indeed, from Sylhet, the main river port for much of fertile Assam that so many of these sailors came.

Perhaps, having travelled the rivers to bring cargoes of tea, jute, cotton and indigo, the river mariners were already far from home and were ready to travel further. Or perhaps, being so far from home by the time they reached ports such as Chittagong, Barisal or Calcutta, they were simply more vulnerable and less protected from pressing.

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that the vast majority of the Bangladeshi community in UK and elsewhere hail from Sylhet. And therein lays the origin of their identity crisis.

Britain s love affair with Indian restaurants is, in fact, a relationship with restaurants, most of which are run by Bangladeshis. Bangladeshis in UK, therefore, are fairly accustomed to being referred to as from the Indian restaurant, with a clear implication of being Indian.

The communities themselves are widely referred to as Bangladeshi. Those familiar with them, however, recognizing the reality, will generally accept that the majority of Bangladeshis are, in fact, from Sylhet, and refer to them as Sylhetis.

In Sylhet, however, the Bangladeshis who are normally resident in UK are known as Londonis.

Bangladeshis, Sylhetis, Londonis... or even Indians, there may be something of an identity crisis, but what is indisputable is that Britain, and the world s love affair with curry at the Indian restaurants derives, for the most part, from the contribution made by Sylhetis to the world s cuisine.

And there are certainly few places where that popular cuisine can be found more authentic and satisfyingly mouth watering than Sylhet, and Bangladesh.

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