The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect South Asia Scene’s editorial policy.
I would like to start by highlighting that Bengali communities are vast and diverse. Often each family adds its own nuances to their Bengali heritage. My article is largely based on the family I married into and their wider family and friends.
I have had the privilege of seeing inside a small part of the Bengali community. I often think, while sitting with my mother in law and her friends in vibrant Asian clothes, among noisy chatter, about all the people who pay for experiences like this.
Navigating a different culture often leaves me feeling lost. The intricacies of who you have obligations to, how you fulfil those obligations, what you say, what you don’t say, who you should talk to and who you shouldn’t talk to. I find these aspects of the culture hard, full of loaded presumptions and gendered. What makes it even harder is that from my experience Bengali culture tries to avoid confrontation and directness. Rules are pretty much entirely unspoken, people won’t tell you you’ve got something wrong until the situation is over and you can’t do anything about it.
Although my husband and I were born, raised and educated in Britain, it can sometimes feel like we are from different worlds. It pretty much boils down to, I wasn’t raised in a culture with silent scripts but he was. Silent scripts are norms deeply embedded in societies that people don’t question. In my personal upbringing there was a focus on individualism and pretty much anything is up for grabs, you chat to who you want to, in the way that you want to, there is an emphasis on being whoever you want to be, and there is an absence of family, societal and cultural hierarchy. Not to say that my life was without cultural expectations and norms, but it certainly feels like there are less.
I am not highlighting my feelings and opinions to say that either one of our upbringings was better than the other. These silent scripts and relational obligations have many benefits. A deep respect for elders, a large support network and a huge amount of selfless women, entirely dedicated to the nurturing and caring of others. I often joke that if I asked my father-in-law to come and help me with something he’d come with very few questions asked, my own dad on the other hand, probably wouldn’t want to lose his parking space. If someone is ill and in hospital, they will be supported, elderly members of the community are much less likely to be left in care homes, babies and children grow up around grandparents and large, supported family networks.
I think in all relationships we have, whether with our spouses or parents or friends, you have to pick your battles. I have accepted that this is the way his culture works (this took me a few years!). There are many things I dislike but there are also many things I benefit from and enjoy. I also have to remind myself that just because my husband or in laws act in a certain way, this isn’t necessary a part of their Bengali heritage, it could be related to many other aspects of their identity. On a lighter note, the food, clothes and jewellery is awesome!
Cover Photo Credits: KPCC