I remember one of my very first pieces of writing was about a crazy man. It was called, “The long long man.” Before your imagination runs wild, let me tell you that in the local language, which was a version of broken English, “long long” meant “crazy”. In my neighbourhood, there was a man who was probably homeless and would wander around in dirty clothes, spaced out and intimidating. All the kids in my class would call him the “long long man” and that’s how the name stuck. In my story, I had gone to the local bakery to buy a beef pie. While eyeing the wares in the display shelf, I noticed a shadow behind me and realized the long long man was standing outside the door, looming over us. Scared out of my wits, I left the pie and ran from the shop.
That’s about it, my first story. You have to remember I was eight years old and my imagination was still spawning creativity!
Speaking of beef pie, it was one of my most favourite things to eat at The Island. The pie was as big as my hand back then, and I would peel off a bit of the crust on top to release the steam and inhale the scents of the thick brown beefy gravy. Delicious!
Another favourite was the roast chicken and french fries from a local chip shop. I started calling them french fries after moving to Bangladesh, but back then, it was always “chicken and chips”. The fries were long and soft on the inside and crisp on the outside. The chicken was cooked with its skin on and it had a wonderful smoky, barbecue flavour with tender chicken on the inside. The shop also served sheep’s tongue (yes that’s exactly what it is, not a disguised name for anything else haha!). It was a local favourite and for those feeling squeamish right now, don’t, the texture is similar to chewy, meaty cartilage, and actually quite tasty. Come on, if you like our very own khiri kabab, you gotta like some tongue!
The local cuisine was quite simple, not spice heavy at all. Usually barbecued, fried or baked in underground “ovens”. By ovens, I mean large stones were heated over fire and placed into a shallow pit, and the food to be cooked would be wrapped in banana leaves or aluminium foil and put on the stones. The food parcels were then covered up in soil and let to sit in the pit until cooked through. Traditional feasts were cooked this way, and this style of cooking was called a “mumu”. Usually present in a ‘mumu’ would be lamb chops, fried rice, and baked vegetables. Tapioca was quite sought after, I would find the baked versions chalky at first, but eventually the smoky sweetness would come through.
Tropical fruits were also abundant, and we had fruit trees in our backyard, Banana, pineapple and the bell fruit, a.k.a the jamrul. Unlike the water white variety here, the bell fruit on The Island were pink, sweet and juicy. Birds would often flock our bell fruit tree and steal the ripe ones.
For entertainment, there wasn’t much to do on The Island. There were no amusement parks, only the hotels had restaurants (and usually too expensive), and cable TV was limited too. My sister and I had access to a popular 90s kids channel though, and so we grew up with Sesame Street, The Rugrats and Bananas in Pyjamas entertaining us. Our parents would also take us travelling on weekends or holidays, and I can (quite unabashedly) say that I’ve taken a ride on a helicopter by the time I was nine years old!
With little distraction from external devices and the only computer we had access to was the one at school, so my sister and I got hooked onto books very early on. The international school allowed students to order books from abroad at subsidized rates every few months, so I was able to buy new and high quality books while growing up. I meticulously saved all of them, over the years, because I knew books were expensive and I wouldn’t get these books anywhere else.
I’m waiting for Jellybean to learn to read so that I can give her my books from time to time. She recently has shown an interest in stories and makes us explain the pictures from the book since she can’t read yet. The Husband and I both love to read, even though I don’t have as much time and patience as before, and would love to instill this in Jellybean as well.
I know Jellybean might not have the kind of childhood that I had, growing up wild and free, but I hope to come as close to that as possible.