It’s a common theme amongst conversations for second generation Bangladeshis here in the West, when discussing growing up in a Bangladeshi family. We come across a large tin of Quality Streets, Roses or a tin of Biscuit hoping to open and find chocolates or confectionaries, only to be greeted with the pre-cooked pastry or frozen Somosas our Mums had stored inside. Countless jokes and meme’s have been made about it – to the extent it has now become embedded in our general conversation on what it means to be a Bengali. One person once wrote, ‘My Biscuit tin has biscuits in it, does it mean I am no longer Bengali?’
But beyond the jokes and memes, lies a deeper meaning into the mindset of our parents and that of our previous generation. A mindset which some may label an art form, that we are sadly losing or have already lost in current times.
Growing up, I had never seen a Tupperware in my house, I didn’t even know what that was. My parents like many, used empty ice cream containers, empty cans, anything they had salvaged from items they have bought from the supermarket which could be used for something else on top of their original purpose. We, the younger generation attributed it to their ‘Bangladeshi out of touch’ background, on them having no clue on how to adjust to Western society. It was embarrassing to share with anyone at school, who were not from our cultural background, that our Mum used old drink bottles to store her cooking oil, empty plastic containers of my brother’s baby milk formula for her various cooking spices, or how I used to help her mash the garlic for her cooking in the empty can of chickpeas. It was even more embarrassing to explain to our non-Bengali friends, about the second-hand furniture’s that our parents had bought from the market or received from a neighbour who no longer needed it.
Looking back, we now see the wisdom in their behaviour. They belonged to a generation where waste was not an option. In their world, any item that can serve multiple purpose, should be salvaged and used, the ‘mend it and use it’ generation. Ones who did not throw something away because it was broke or no longer served the single purpose it was made for. They viewed items like they viewed individual people. The resourcefulness of what each brings and the different purposes they served. In doing so they were doing more for this planet than we knew.
We never have had recycle bins in our house, our parents would always find some use for the cardboards or plastic bottles. Whether it was for watering plants or acting as a makeshift cover for where we leave our shoes. They didn’t do this because they were socially conscious, fighting for climate change or for some ‘Woke’ reasons that we find ourselves surrounded by in todays world. It was just their way of life, seeing value of every resource, product and item. Making use of everything even after its sell by use. A far cry from the throw away culture that we have now become accustomed to.
As we grew up and progressed on with our lives, getting our degrees and well-paying jobs with careers. We associated those age- old practices of our parents with poverty and their lack of being in touch. To prove our affluence and to accomplish our rise from rags to riches story, we replaced our old tin pots that stored our tea and sugar with ceramic pots that had the names Tea, Sugar, Coffee printed on it. Our biscuit tins now have biscuits instead of pre-cooked pastry. Our fridges lined with different sized Tupperware to take our lunch to work and our living rooms decorated with Ikea furnitures, to look pleasing to the aesthetic eye. Little realising that in our quest to prove that we have moved away from poverty. We have left behind a very important lifestyle, practice and teaching that is pivotal to the survival of our hearts and the planet.
Nowadays, we find ourselves promoting Climate Change issues more so than we practice or care to admit. We carry metaphorical placards to reduce plastic, drive 10 miles of fuel to buy bio-degradable products, all the while knowing that we are participating in a throw away culture than ever before. Every morning we are greeted with stacking pile of our takeaway boxes and our growing collection of clothes all of which is feeding into our constant need of consumerism. Our parents did not know about Climate Change. Recycling is not a word in their vocabulary, nor have they ever heard of bio- degradable products. Yet they lived a more eco -friendly life and contributed less carbon emission, than we do now with our ‘Woke’ knowledge and campaigns. They relied on simple common sense of valuing each and everything for what its worth. Throwing something as mundane as a tin can, for them was same as throwing away a £5 note. The way they treated the items in their lives is how they treated people, which in effect shaped the world we live. A home filled with items less than a year old and Amazon packages filling up our bins is a scenario unimaginable to them. If we could pull our heads out of the bubble wraps that cover our latest delivery, we would realise how this life we lead is eating into our climate and our souls.
The Universe has a funny way of balancing and adapting to our behaviours. The way we treat the things in our lives, eventually shifts our attitude to the way we treat each other. Our parents fought hard to keep relationships with people around them, mend the broken ones, found usefulness in the less useful ones, tolerate the eccentric ones. People were valuable and like the items in their life, they knew they were unique and scarce commodities to last and not to throw away.
Our inept desire for more things, only digs away at these very fundamental and our souls. This culture of getting rid of things after they serve their single purpose, has transformed into our behaviour and in effect how we treat and look at each other as humans. We now live in a world where many fail to see the value of a person or the multitude of skills and things they have to offer, other than what they can serve to us. Friends, Family, Relatives, Neighbours, Ex-Lovers, Colleagues all of whom we discard and no longer reach out to because they have passed whatever use they brought to us at a certain time of our life or have failed to provide something we want- so we discard them, like we do with the items in our lives. Broken people, who like the plastic that float in the the Ocean, lay in waste, hoping that people would see them for more than what they once served and all the other things they are and can be for us.
The race to save the climate does not just rely on poster campaigns and awareness. It lies in the way we lead our lives. We don’t need some expensive viral campaign hosted by celebrities to raise awareness of how to do our bit, we have it inside ourselves already. We just need to dig into our roots a bit. It’s time we did what our parents did, take a hard look into some of their practices and claim them back, in doing so, not only would we find ways to save the world but in the process save our souls too.