The following story based on a similar experience I had as a child. I was born in Bangladesh, but quickly immigrated to U.S. when I was only six months old. My first trip back to Bangladesh was when I was about four years old. I was an immediate allure for being an “American” kid. I was greeted with fascination, because people were fascinated with America, the home of opportunity, home of Hollywood. I realized quickly that just being from America meant that I was treated differently, as if I was better than everyone else. Family members would boast about their American Poree (fairy) in Bengali. I didn’t enjoy celebrity status in my family, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t play with the maid’s children, or why when I wanted to be fed by the maid with her hands, that it was looked down upon. Looking back at it now, I see how much you can alter the reality of a child, how you can teach false entitlement, how you can teach hate.
I saw her looking at my clothes – the new clothes in the brand new package – and then I saw her tears. She was peering out the side of the doorway, eyeing my room ever so closely. Her eyes were alert, I did not know what for until my grandmother came in. “GO BACK TO YOUR QUARTERS! I DON’T WANT YOUR FILTHY BODY COMING NEAR MY AMERICAN POREE!” She shouted as she swiftly put her hands on her hip, her nose flared like a balloon. The little girl scurried to the servants quarter; that’s where they stayed, in the back where all the filth was. I looked at my grandmother and started crying. I managed to speak, “She wasn’t doing anything! And she is not dirty!” As I shouted back at her, I mimicked the strong stature of my grandmother, placing my hand on my hips. My grandmother’s face looked puzzled, her eyes started streaming around the room as if she did not know what to do. She then fixed her eyes on mine as she began to speak, now with a much calmer tone,“Honey, my love, my life, there are things you cannot understand now, you are too young my child, you are only 6 years old. These things will come to you in my age.” She gave a long sigh and brought me closer to her and placed my face on her chest. “Don’t feel bad for her, they are not our kind; look at you , my American princess, you, you are going to do well, maybe marry an American, huh? No use in staying in this poor country, these dirty people don’t know what’s good for them. We help them, us privileged people, so don’t cry love, she gets a place to stay and even eat.”
She left the room, as I stayed standing near the doorway, hoping the little girl would come back since I knew better than to go to that area of the house. I wanted to give her the new dress my mother had sent me from America. I was in Bangladesh visiting for a year. My mother wanted me to stay and learn where I came from, and I was learning, but I am sure it wasn’t the kind of knowledge mom sent me here for.
“I DON’T WANT YOUR FILTHY BODY COMING NEAR MY AMERICAN POREE!”
I went back to my room and picked up the package and took the dress out. I held it to my body looking at it in the mirror; it would fit her I thought, and she is my size. I waited and waited and though it seemed an eternity passed by, it was only about an hour and I could not wait any longer. I peeked out of my room and realized I did not have to be sneaky, the elders were taking their afternoon naps, and so I went to the back of the house. It occurred to me that I had never been to the back of the house before; and I immediately became paralyzed with fear. The fear didn’t last long, I was on a mission, and I just wanted to see the curious girl. I went past the kitchen that was next to my room, and beyond the kitchen past the dark hallway was a door that seemed to lead out to the dumps. The further I went the more grim our house became. I could not possibly imagine that this was the back of our beautiful house. There was a streak of light coming into the kitchen, the door was slightly left open, and so I crept close to it, my hand on the door knob. I peeked inside the key hole, but it was blocked, so I just turned the knob and went inside.
I could not imagine that a house that was so beautiful could hold such an evil looking place.
It was a world I was open to that very moment, the first time I ever saw the servant quarters. I entered a different universe; I could not imagine that a house that was so beautiful could hold such an evil looking place. As soon as I entered, there was a bed made of straw to the right. And the bathroom to the left gave out the most horrific smell. There was another room to the right which seemed to be the prayer room as a single prayer rug was on the floor. Straight ahead the girl stood still, staring at me with a blank expression. I could not read her. I felt a cold shiver down my back, she looked so sad, and I wanted to hold her hand. She was the same height as me and she had short hair that looked too tangled to comb out. The dress she was wearing looked very familiar and I realized it was mine from when I was four. The dress was tattered and worn out and fell above her knees, it was obviously too small for her. I observed her with the most inquisitive eyes and then she spoke out which made me jump. “Memsab, what are you doing here? Your grandmother would be very upset if she saw you here.” Memsab is the worth for a woman in a position of authority. I was six. I had no authority.
I couldn’t find the words to respond. She continued, “Memsab if you have any pity leave or my mother and I will be beaten”, she said, her voice cracking, her eyes wild with fear. I saw her gazing at the package held tightly to my chest and I managed to speak, “I want to give you this” handing her the dress, “I think it will look very pretty on you”. She looked at me with bewilderment. “Me, Memsab, me?” she asked. For the first time I saw a smile on her face. “I am Lottha, thank you thank you, Memsab,” she introduced herself as her eyes filled with tears. “My name is not Memsab, it’s Mithila, can I be your friend?” We smiled at each other, and I took her hand and we went by the veranda.