Starting from the London Wall in the heart of the city’s financial district and all the way till the port of Dover, besides the circulation of the pound sterling as legal tender, the only other consistent verity is the sheer expanse of Bangladeshi restaurants, which successfully pass off their food as Indian.
Though UK’s Office for National Statistics has not found the time or inclination to affirm the exact number of Bangladeshi restaurants per square mile, any Londoner can see that such restaurants clearly outnumber the density of a Marks and Spencer, a Sainsbury or for that matter the traditional English pub.
When the first wave of Bangladeshi migrants hit the shores of the UK in the 1970s to work in the manufacturing sector, they thought they had dumped the excess baggage which flowed from the economic and political disturbances that followed the liberation of Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, nearly 40 years hence, little has changed for them, though the world around them has moved ahead. With the gradual decline of the manufacturing sector, many of the Bangladeshi workers re-tooled themselves to cash in on the chicken tikka masala dope trip that much of the Western world has been on ever since. Though the origins of chicken tikka masala in the UK are as shrouded in mystery as the anointment of “the” oldest English pub, many a tale over more than just one’s fair share of wine points a finger at a Bangladeshi restaurant in Glasgow.
Therefore, despite of several overt indications that the curry revolution was charted by Bangladeshi textile worker-turned-chefs in the UK, it is but a little befuddling that such restaurants have to use the Indian rope trick to sell their wares.
This is what brings us to the question about the inherent instability in Bangladesh which has, in many respects, hindered the image and, thus, growth of its large expatriate population in the UK. Compared with the exponential progress of the Indian expatriate population in all walks of life in the UK, clearly the same environment has not yielded similar results for the Bangladeshi populace. And yes, the bogey of extremist Islamic terrorism fanatically fired on by some nameless CIA sidekick has not helped the cause.
The unending stream of platitudes that flow from the UK establishment at every major Indian festival leads one to believe that it does feel that fostering a strong network with India helps the long-term welfare of the UK. Obviously, the same feeling is not present when dealing with Bangladesh. Just like the million or so Bangladeshi refugees who reside in various parts of India with Indian identities and who had at one time provided lengthy doses of political Viagra to a certain Marathi tiger, the situation in the UK is a verbatim replica in a different geographical setting. Therefore, to the extent possible, Bangladesh and Bangladeshis have tried to use the Indian umbrella to stave off the London rain! While this may be matter of pride for many Indians, the reasons behind the apparent decline in the fortunes of Bangladeshis in London needs further study, perhaps on a UK government grant—perhaps by the most famous Bangladeshi writer now in a safe house in Delhi—at least that could justify her desire to remain in India!
Alarmingly, much of what we see of the Bangladeshis riding the Indian wave in the UK leads one inevitably to a slightly tweaked version of the “Akhand (unified) Bharat” concept—as applicable to the globalizing world—peculiar isn’t it? I do hope the RSS shakhas dotted across India, which welcome every morning extolling the virtues of a Hindu-led “Akhand Bharat”, do not designate my writing as prescribed reading.
(Saionton Basu is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org)